Artemisia Gentileschi's story continues to reflect the violence that women experience today.
Artemisia's story goes beyond a good friendship with Galileo. Artemisia's life was painful; try imagining what was like to be a female artist in the 17th century.
Who was Artemisia Gentileschi?
Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian painter, in fact, the most influential painter of the 17th century. She mastered the chiaroscuro technique and became the first woman in history to be admitted to the Academy of Design in Florence.
Since she was a child, Artemisia showed great talent in painting. She spent her time in the workshop of her father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi. When she was only seventeen years old, around 1610, she signed her first work entitled: Susanna and the Old Men. However, after achieving several successes in her life, came a bitter chapter for Artemisia. When she was nineteen years old, her father's assistant, Agostino Tassi, raped her. He tried to "save" the situation by marrying her, but he was already married.
During the trial, Artemisia went through a myriad of humiliations, similar to what a woman goes through today when exposing her case. She had even to undergo a gynecological examination to prove that she had been raped. Tassi was sentenced to one year in prison and was exiled from the Papal States.
After this tragic chapter in Artemisia's life, she decided to take revenge on her own hands. She exposed her rapist in a painting where she depicted the Biblical motif of Judith beheading Holofernes. Her painting Judith Slaying Holofernes shows a scene full of brutality and revenge. Years later, the artist made a second version of the scene. Today it is one of her most celebrated artworks.
Artemisia and Galileo
In Florence, and later in Rome, Artemisia had great success. It was there where she met Galileo Galilei. Galileo was working on his famous text Two New Sciences and Artemisia was utterly impressed by the genius of Galileo and soon they ended up befriending. They would constantly exchange letters talking about their works, and she even asked him for support and advice for the second version of Judith.
Moreover, Artemisia started implementing some of Galieo's theories on her own artwork through dimensions and perspectives. As for her second version of Judith, Galileo's impact is seen particularly in the blood spurting from Holofernes' head. It portrays the parabolic law of projectiles that Galileo would publish almost two decades later.
After that, Artemisia did not paint vulnerable or weak women; on the contrary, the painter made biblical protagonists and historical characters, showing strong and determined women with attitudes that rebelled against male dominance. It was in Naples where she was able to renew herself artistically and become extremely well known. She maintained relations with the viceroy and became the first woman to work on paintings for a cathedral. It is known that she traveled alone and ran her painting workshop by herself.
In addition, in July of last year, the National Gallery acquired a portrait of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which is believed to be a self-portrait by Artemisia. St. Catherine was a woman who preferred to be beheaded rather than marry emperor Maxentius.
Unfortunately, after her death, Artemisia was forgotten. Fortunately, in the 1970s the feminist movement turned the artist into a symbol of the gender struggle. In recent years, Artemisia's life has been the subject of novels and films, in addition to revaluing feminist figures of her authorship.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Images from Wikimedia Commons