Artemisia Gentileschi - Free Essay Example

Published: 2023-10-28
Artemisia Gentileschi - Free Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women Gender History Arts Europe Historical & political figures
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1691 words
15 min read


Artemisia Gentileschi is a reminder that women have been integral in making art since the beginning of time. Artemisia was born in 1593 in Rome, Italy, and was the eldest of five children, being the only daughter. When her mother died in 1605, her father, Orazio, also a respected artist, did not remarry, forcing Artemisia to be the sole matriarchal figure of the Gentileschi family at the age of 12. She led a sequestered life, and just like other girls during her time, venturing out in the world except for religious reasons was highly disregarded. However, instead of heading out to a convent, she spent a considerable amount of her childhood in her father's studio. She mixed pigments and made garnishes, all while learning to paint. She learned the Caravaggio and Chiaroscuro techniques -which Orazio admired- that had taken over Roman painting at the turn of the 17th century.

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In 1611, however, while her father was working away from home, Agostino Tassi raped Artemisia. Tassi was a young painter who became friends with Artemisia's father while working on a fresco in Cardinal Scipione Borghese's palace. He accepted Orazio's offer of giving lessons to Artemisia on techniques in perspective. He thus, took advantage of the father's absence to conduct his heinous act of Artemisia, and when Orazio returned, he denounced him to the authorities. The trial that followed was utterly unbearable for Artemisia. She was subjected to torture to prove the veracity of her allegations. For example, she endured thumbscrews to the hands she relied on to paint and was forced to conduct a pelvic examination. Although Tassi was be punished, this trauma shaped the Artemisia's young life.

Soon after this trial, she got married to another painter from Florence, Pierantonio Stiattesi, and therefore settled in Florence away from the memories of her home. While there, she gave birth to two daughters and resumed her artistry. She associated herself with some of the finest artists in Florence, such as Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo's great-nephew. She was the first woman to enter the Florentine academy of fine arts in 1616 and established herself as one of the leading painters of modern style. Artemisia, however, separated from her husband and lived an independent life, often traveling and living with her children in various cities in Italy. In the late 1930s, upon the invitation of England's King Charles I, she joined her father and worked together with him on several paintings for the royal family. Orazio died shortly after her arrival, and she worked independently on some portraits before returning to Naples, Italy, in the early 1640s, where she resided until 1652 when she died (Pagano, 2020).

Historical and Personal Context of Artemisia Gentileschi

Four main themes are apropos to Artemisia's life. They include:- violence, vengeance, male tyranny, and feminism. A woman's life in the 17th century was not an easy one, and most of the Women during Artemisia's time accepted their fate. It was rare to see a woman in the pre-modern era to take a stance against the oppression that was the order of the day-to-day life. Artemisia Gentileschi was, however, an exception. With only her talent to sustain her, she faced every assumption about women present in the culture of renaissance Italy, all without money or education.

Artemisia's father, Orazio, trained her in the same way every other studio assistant was taught. His aim at training her was never to build her career, but rather to serve him. It was the norm for a painter to have such an assistant, but it also colored Orazio's relationship with his daughter. Although he passed on Carravagio's techniques to her, the rest of her training was elementary. The popular view was that women needed to be taught only what was seen as strictly necessary, and Orazio certainly so no need of having an educated daughter. But even with these limitations, everyone in the family seemed to recognize that she was really the talented one and the heir to Orazio's talents, which she, in fact, surpassed.

Despite being so young, her brutal rape encounter with Agostino Tassi was the epitome of violence and Male tyranny in her life. It brought her shame and dishonor to both her and her family name. The resulting trial lasted for several months and gave her publicity in the worst possible way. According to Marc Lamb (2017), in one of the trial documents, she is quoted saying, " it was awful, he took me by force. It was my first time, and I felt a devastating, burning sensation. I did what I could do to keep him off me. I scratched his face, pulled his hair, bit him, kicked him, and slapped him, but he just continued. At one point, I used all my strength and ripped off a piece of flesh, but that could not stop him. When he was finished with me, I got hold of a knife and threatened him."

While Artemisia suffered torture during the trials, Tassi's punishment was not a dire one since, the pope, a fan of his art, protected him (Jones, 2016). Her situation in Rome prompted her to leave and focus on her career. While she could not write her story as she was illiterate, her vengeance came through a paintbrush. Her paintings communicated a compelling personal vision, something the women who broke out as artists in her time could ever manage. Her art was self-evidently autobiographical as she poured her life and experiences into her work. She fought back against the male violence that dominated her world through words and images. Such is the terrifying painting of Judith and Holofernes that I will explain in detail in the next segment. She starts beyond Caravaggio, who had painted the same art, by portraying the servant woman as a strong young woman who actively participates in the killing of Holofernes. In Caravaggio's painting, the servant woman is only there to collect the cut-off head. This painting is of a revolutionary impact. This is because it gives the impression that if women got together, they would fight back against a world ruled by men.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Artworks

Judith Slaying Holofernes

The slaying of Holofernes is a popular biblical scene. While traditional portrayals had focused on Judith's beauty and Courage, Caravaggio introduces a degree of realism to the scene. Artemisia took this realism to new psychological and physical levels by reinforcing the women's identities and the demands of beheading a human being. What is fascinating about this painting is that Artemisia imagines what it would take to kill such a man who was a general. She gets her servant to help Judith pin Holofernes down and hack his head off while blood spurts from the neck. While it is a tough painting to look at, it embodies what Artemisia brings to pictures- the difference in sensibility. It is one of her several paintings that depict women taking revenge against men or punishing them (Jones, 2016). This is a clear expression of the anger and frustration she embodies due to her rape incident and the trial that followed.

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders was a painting that, for many years, was assumed to be the work of Artemisia's father, another illustration of how the work of women was disregarded in the pre-modern era (Pagano, 2020). It was her first painting, which she completed by the time she was 17 years old. It is also a biblical scene where two elders spy on a virtuous Susanna who is bathing in her garden and is then blackmailed into having sexual relations with them. Many artists have portrayed Susanna as unaware of the elders' presence, but Artemisia depicts her as being in distress of being watched, illustrating that the incident was a traumatic event (Treves, 2020). Gentileschi presents a three-dimensional female hero whose plight is expressed more than the villains' anticipated pleasure, a reflection of the sexual harassment she was receiving.


Gentileschi, in this painting, presents Lucretia, who was a classical mythology figure. She killed herself after being raped and afterward became a popular symbol of female defiance against male tyranny. She depicts what no other artist had managed to do- focus on the psychological effects of rape. Artemisia depicts Lucretia grasping a dagger on the one hand and her breast on the other. By doing so, she brings out the character's femininity, the woman's nurturing potential, as well as her bold intention (Gleadell, 1998). I feel that the artist focuses on showcasing women bravely and heroically by focusing on their psychological aspects, thus, moving her viewers to feelings of awe and pity.


Because of what she achieved despite all the odds stacked against her, Artemisia Gentileschi is an inspiration to me. She painted what she wanted, and neither did she shy away from doing what she wanted, all while knowing the pitfalls of being a woman. In my opinion, she achieved what was unachievable by a woman in the 17th century, not only in Italy but worldwide. Gentileschi was ardent at capturing the emotional and psychological aspects of her female subjects. I specifically like that her compositions portrayed biblical and mythological women as heroines, and gave women perspective in an industry shaped by the visions of men. She was a brilliant, mercurial painter, a gifted businesswoman, a caring mother despite a turbulent love life, and a modern woman in a patriarchal world. Thus, Artemisia Gentileschi was a strong, interesting, and coherent personality and an essential symbol and champion of female power.


Gleadell, C. (1998). The Mystery of Artemisia. The Telegraph. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from

Jones, J. (2016). More savage than Caravaggio: the woman who took revenge in oil. The Guardian. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from

Marc, L. (2017). Artemisia Undaunted. Youtube. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from

Pagano, A. (2020). This audacious artist shocked 17th-century Italy with her work. National Geographic. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from

Treves, L. (2020). Artemisia Gentileschi in 8 Paintings. The National Gallery. Youtube. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from

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