In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Artemisia Gentileschi

  • Introduction
  • Technical Analyses
  • Gender and Art
  • Exhibitions and Collected Studies
  • Critique and Historiography

Art History Artemisia Gentileschi
Sheila ffolliott
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0164


In the expanding scholarship on Artemisia Gentileschi (b. 1593–d. c. 1654), accounts of her accomplishments and success have long tangled with considerations of her gender and biography. Most early modern women artists had artist fathers and acquired the requisite skills at home. In a Roman art world permeated with Caravaggism, Orazio Gentileschi, widowed when Artemisia was twelve, taught his daughter. In 1610, aged seventeen, she signed and dated a poignant narrative featuring a prominent female nude, Susanna and the Elders (Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein). This accomplished work, to which Orazio may have contributed, presaged what would become her trademark: dramatic narratives featuring female protagonists, some nude. The next year her father’s associate, Agostino Tassi—who claimed that Orazio had him teach Artemisia perspective—deflowered her and, with expectations of marriage, their intimacy continued. In 17th-century Roman law, rape of a virgin was not a crime of violence, but an offense against family honor. Tassi was already married so Orazio initiated prosecution. After a trial in 1612, he was sentenced and Artemisia married Pierantonio Stiattesi. As Sofonisba Anguissola’s father had praised her to potential patrons, so Orazio promoted his daughter’s talent, writing Christine of Lorraine, dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany that nineteen-year-old Artemisia “had no peer.” Her honor recovered—essential to any future career—Artemisia and her husband moved to Florence, where she developed into an independent painter. She created her best-known work, the startlingly graphic Judith Decapitating Holofernes (Florence: Uffizi); forged patronage connections; and gained membership in the Florentine Academy. She bore five children, only one of whom survived childhood, and maintained a workshop, even while a single mother, using credit to purchase supplies and hire helpers. New evidence, including personal letters revealing her powers of verbal expression, has further illuminated her Roman and Florentine periods, and greatly expanded our knowledge of her professional maturation in Venice, London, and especially Naples, where she spent twenty years. She offered paintings and wrote letters to potential clients, sometimes asserting her artistic authority. Spanish, Italian, and English royalty; nobility; and connoisseurs commissioned and collected her work. Artemisia cleared a series of gender-based hurdles. Although women’s artistic ability was thought to suit them for less mentally taxing genres like still life or portraiture, Artemisia achieved professional success in narrative painting. She was the first woman to achieve a stature fully commensurate with her male counterparts. Her story of surviving rape and the public exposure of the trial, alongside scholars’ assertions that her paintings articulate a protofeminist viewpoint, have made her a modern feminist icon.

General Overviews

While some earlier scholarship exists, much information on Artemisia has emerged in since the late 20th century and appears both in monographs and in shorter studies.

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