Renaissance and Reformation Artemisia Gentileschi
Jacqueline Marie Musacchio
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0466


During the last four decades the painter Artemisia Gentileschi (b. Rome 1593—d. Naples 1654?) has become an increasingly popular subject for both scholars and the general public. Against considerable odds, she was trained by her painter father, Orazio Gentileschi, and demonstrated a precocious talent from an early age. Her first known signed and dated painting is a Susanna and the Elders of 1610 (Schönborn Collection, Pommersfelden); she returned to this subject many times during her career, including her last known signed and dated painting of 1652 (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna). In the intervening years she devised innovative compositions for both traditional and not-so-traditional iconographies, with a focus on heroic women from sacred and secular sources—in addition to Susannas, she painted Judiths, Mary Magdalenes, and Lucretias, among others—as well as multiple self-portraits, indicating demand for her abilities and interpretation as well as her image. Her rape by the painter Agostino Tassi in 1611, and the trial that followed in 1612, has been seen by many as a pivotal moment in Artemisia’s life, which it certainly was. But her artistic accomplishments must be understood in the much wider contexts of nascent feminist ideologies and painting in Baroque Europe. During her long career, spent in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, and London, Artemisia acquired numerous patrons and correspondents. These included Grand Duke Cosimo II of Florence and his wife, Christina of Lorraine; Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger; Galileo Galilei; the Duke of Alcalá Fernando Enríquez d’Afán de Ribera y Enríquez; Philip IV and his sister Infanta María of Spain; Cassiano dal Pozzo; and Charles I of England. She was named the first female member of Florence’s Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in 1616, and she deftly managed her own thriving business and extensive studio, largely on her own. The last known documented reference is a Neapolitan tax document of 1654; she may have died during the plague outbreak in the city that year. Her burial site, allegedly in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, has not been identified, but a later text states that it was marked with a now lost stone simply inscribed “HEIC ARTEMISIA,” or “Here Lies Artemisia.” The lack of more detailed information provides an indication of the fame she had achieved during her life. The literature on Artemisia Gentileschi has expanded significantly in recent years, as has her body of work, but not without considerable scholarly disagreement.

Early Modern Women Artists

Artemisia Gentileschi appeared in surveys of Italian Baroque painting for some time, although those texts tended to include her only as an aside in larger discussions of her father, Orazio Gentileschi, or the Caravaggisti. More useful information can be found in the growing scholarship that specifically examines women artists, beginning with Nochlin 1971, who first questioned their perceived absence in the historical record. Nochlin’s article paved the way for the exhibition catalogued by Harris and Nochlin 1976 as well as textbooks suitable for undergraduate courses surveying women artists through history, like Chadwick 2012. The website Art Herstory provides a wealth of information on early modern women artists, while specific analyses of Italian early modern women artists include Barker 2016; Fortunati, et al. 2007; and Fortune and Falcone 2014 (as well as the related video Gould 2012). Each of these analyzes Artemisia and her contemporaries from a variety of perspectives, and each includes extensive reproductions and, in the case of the texts, bibliographies. Other sources on women artists that outline different methods of investigation and interpretation are Greer 1979 and Pollock 1999. For further information see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Gender and Art in the 17th Century.”

  • Art Herstory.

    An informative and regularly updated website on early modern women artists run by Erika Gaffney; the associated blog has news about recent books and exhibitions as well as posts from scholars working in the field.

  • Barker, Sheila, ed. Women Artists in Early Modern Italy: Careers, Fame, and Collectors. London: Harvey Miller, 2016.

    The proceedings of a 2012 symposium sponsored by the Jane Fortune Research Program at the Medici Archive Project, this volume includes ten essays (and a preface by Barker) that examine the careers of relatively well-known artists like Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola, as well as those who are more obscure today, like Lucrezia Quistelli, Arcangela Paladini, Costanza Francini, and Camilla Guerrieri Nati.

  • Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012.

    The fifth edition of a textbook, originally published in 1990, that surveys women artists from the medieval era to today.

  • Fortunati, Vera, Jordana Pomeroy, and Claudio Strinati, eds. Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque. Milan: Skira, 2007.

    This catalogue of an exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, surveys seventeen women painters, engravers, and sculptors active in 16th- and 17th-century Italy. It includes entries on sixty-seven works of art—including six by Artemisia Gentileschi—and essays by Claudio Strinati, Jordana Pomeroy, Caroline P. Murphy, Sheila ffolliott, Vera Fortunati, Ann Sutherland Harris, Carole Collier Frick, and Alexandra Lapierre.

  • Fortune, Jane, with Linda Falcone. Invisible Women. Florence: Florentine Press, 2014.

    First published in 2009, in conjunction with the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, this is an informative collection of biographies of thirty-five women artists associated with the city of Florence from the 16th through the 19th centuries, including Artemisia Gentileschi and many of her contemporaries; it accompanies Gould 2012.

  • Gould, Todd, writer and producer. Invisible Women. Indianapolis: WFYI Productions, 2012.

    An Emmy award-winning short documentary that introduces several largely unrecognized women artists who worked in early modern Florence, including Artemisia Gentileschi; it accompanies Fortune and Falcone 2014. Preview available online.

  • Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.

    Using a sociological lens, Greer seeks to establish women painters as a collective group with similar concerns, though inherently unable to attain the success of their male counterparts. This widely available volume is organized by broad themes, with sometimes quite brief references to individual artists. Greer discusses Artemisia in the chapter “The Magnificent Exception,” but some of the analysis is problematic in light of more recent scholarship, so students should be cautioned.

  • Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists 1550–1950. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

    This groundbreaking four-venue exhibition included six paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi. The lengthy chronological essay—now largely superseded by newer scholarship but useful for a broad overview—and catalogue entries did much to introduce Artemisia and her peers to the museum-going public and the scholarly community.

  • Nochlin, Linda. “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” In Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness. Edited by Vivian Gornick and Barbara Moran, 480–510. New York: Basic Books, 1971.

    Although Artemisia Gentileschi is only mentioned in passing, Nochlin’s groundbreaking essay, reprinted in various publications under the title “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists,” examined the institutional barriers to women’s art education and the limitations of traditional concepts of artistic genius; it has long been required reading for an understanding of women artists in history.

  • Pollock, Griselda. Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories. London: Routledge, 1999.

    Pollock’s densely written volume examines Artemisia Gentileschi and other artists, male and female, through a psychoanalytical lens to question our understanding of the established canon. Her conclusions are especially at odds with Garrard 1989, cited under Monographic Studies.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.