Several exhibitions since 1991 have contributed to revaluate Artemisa as a great artist. The big exhibition (perhaps the most complete to date) held in Milan at Palazzo Reale from 22 September 2011 to 29 January 2012, and then in Paris, has given back full dignity to the artist.
The Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, stores a “Susanna and the Elders”. It is considered a painting by Artemisia as its composition resembles one of Artemisia’s first work, the now famous “Susanna and the Elders” of 1610 (Oil on canvas, 1.70m x 1.21m, Graf von Schonborn Kunstsammlungen, Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, Germany).
We filmed the return to Italy of the Bassano Susanna after the painting had been lent for the Paris exhibition.
In the painting a young naked girl, Susanna, reacts to the inappropriate and violent intrusion of two men (an old one and a younger one, contrary to the common theme of the two elders) during a bath.
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643)
Prologo Atto I – Sinfonia Atto II – Sinfonia Atto III (L’Orfeo, Venezia, Ricciardo Amadino, 1608)
Gentileschi’s pictorial themes and her very own artistic gesture is set on fire by an angry power, whose echo remains as a ghost after many centuries.
Firstly revaluated by Italian critic and art historian Roberto Longhi, Artemisia’s tumultuous life inspired Longhi’s wife, Anna Banti, to write a novel about it. In the post war years Banti’s novel decreed Artemisia’s success in the collective imagination as a romantic and adventurous figure, making impossible to unlink her work from her life ever after.
During World War II Anna Banti had lost her first manuscript which had been burnt by Nazi troops escaping from Italy. In the published novel, the very memory of the lost manuscript, the memory of all those burnt pages and of that first attempt to portray Artemisia, devoured by flames, is the engine of the story.
Se i languidi miei sguardi (Lettera amorosa a voce sola in genere rappresentativo) (Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi Libro VII, Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1619)
The relationship between Artemisia and her father Orazio was not an easy one. She was not only his daughter. She was the first and the best of his apprentices.
During the rape trial, filed against Agostino Tassi, their private life had been massively scrutinized, her moral upbringing criticized and his honesty as a father doubted. Despite winning the cause, she left Rome soon after the trial to avoid the scandal.
She came back to Rome several times while moving around Italy despite the relationship with Orazio being tense.
However he often sponsored her among powerful clients and often called her to join him at work.
She was probably in Genoa with him around 1624, when Orazio was there to work for the Doria family, and, in 1638, he called her at the court of King Charles I to help him finish his last work, the decoration of a ceiling at Henriette Maria’s House of Delights in Greenwich, The Triumph of Peace and Arts, a year before his death.
He died unexpectedly assisted by his daughter.
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575 – 1647)
Consonanze stravaganti (Il secondo libro de ricercate & altri vari capricci, Napoli, Giacomo Carlino, 1615)
Prudenzia Montone morì prematuramente di parto quando Artemisia aveva solo 12 anni. Lasciò Orazio solo con sette figli. Artemisia era l’unica femmina.
Tarquinio MERULA (1594 – 1665)
Hor ch’è tempo di dormire (Canzonetta spirituale sopra la Nanna) (Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1638)
Frequentare il mondo maschile dei cantieri artistici, tanto gli atelier quanto i ponteggi per la creazione degli affreschi, era, al tempo, inappropriato se non proprio moralmente inaccettabile per una giovane donna.
Oggi è data per certa la partecipazione di Artemisia, allora diciasettenne, alla produzione del lavoro del padre e di Agostino Tassi per il Concerto musicale con Apollo e le Muse sulle volte del Casino delle Muse nel giardino del palazzo romano di Scipione Borghese, nel 1611.
Giovanni Battista FONTANA (ca. 1571 – ca. 1630)
Sonata Settima a doi violini (Sonate a 1. 2. 3. , Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1641)
Orazio’s children were all educated in his workshop. Artemisia shared the same equal upbringing of her six brothers, revealing soon to be one of the most talented.
During the trial such freedom and equality was denounced as reprehensible promiscuity.
Orazio was accused of having open his home to his partners and clients as much as his workshop, leading to his daughter’s ruin.
Andrea FALCONIERI (ca. 1585 – 1656)
Folias echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla de Carallenos (Il Primo Libro di Canzone, Sinfonie, Fantasie […], Napoli, Pietro Paolini e Gioseppe Ricci, 1650)
Luigi ROSSI (ca. 1597 – 1653)
Mio ben (Orfeo, 1647)
Despite the alleged freedom at home and at the workshop, the young Artemisia was not as free in relation to the outside world. Being very jealous Orazio would keep Artemisia closed inside under his grip. She could only go walking at dawn, veiled and strictly followed by a chaperon.
Since her accusation was not believed, at the trial Artemisia was tortured with the Sibilli, or the vice of the Sibyl so called because through it, by means of a painful grip and crashing of the hands, the truth was expected.
A few years after in Florence at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Grand Duchess Christine of Lorraine would ask for the large and disturbing Artemisia’s painting, Judith slaying Holofernes, to be moved to the most dark corner of the Pitti Palace and veiled.
Barbara STROZZI (1619 – 1677)
Lagrime mie (Diporti di Euterpe ovvero Cantate e ariette a voce sola, op. 7, Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1659)
Tears of mine, why do you hold back,
why don’t you wash away the pain
which takes my breath and crushes my heart?
She, whom I adore,
Because she gave me a pitying glance,
Has been imprisoned by her severe father.
The innocent girl is locked up within walls
Which the sun’s rays cannot penetrate,
And what pains me most,
And increases my torment,
Is that I am the cause of my beloved’s suffering.
And you, my eyes, are not weeping!
Tears of mine, why do you hold back?
Alas, how I miss my idol,
I love so much!
She is shut up within marble walls and I sigh
but I do not die!
If death might be granted to me
now that I have no hope,
take my life,
(I beg of you) oh my sufferings!
But I am well aware that in order
to torture me even more.
Fate even denies me death, it is true then, oh God, that destiny desires only my tears.
Artemisia was in Venice in 1628.
Little we know about the trip to this city. However paintings such as Danaë and Cleopatra, created in the following years, reveal that in Venice she had had the chance to see works by Giorgione and Titian.
She had quickly learned the lesson of the Venetian masters (not only Giorgione, but Tintoretto and Veronese too), incorporating in her art many of their aspects, such as colours and themes – most notably the biblical heroines.
Sinfonia Atto III – Ritornello atto III – Prologo Atto I (L’Orfeo, Venezia, Ricciardo Amadino, 1608)
Finale Atto II (Orfeo, 1647)
“Artemisia Gentileschi, with a fabulous name as silky as the paintings of her father, seems the only woman in Italy who ever knew what is painting, colour and texture, and similar essentialities are about, therefore she is not to be confused with the faded series of famous Italian female painters”.
“Artemisia must have been very precocious in everything – look at the report of the trial against Tassi – and so she was in painting: in 1612, when she was fifteen years old, while Tassi would teach her perspective, among other things, she painted the portrait of a putto”.
“We do not doubt that she was then walking moderately in the footsteps of her father, therefore if we want to find her early works we should look for some work in the footsteps of Orazio, but with some youthful hesitation and perhaps feminine sense”.
Roberto Longhi, Padre e Figlia, L’Arte, 1916
Udite amanti – L’Eraclito amoroso (Cantate, arie e duetti Op. 2, Venezia, Angelo Gardano, 1651)
Listen, you lovers, to the reason – oh God! –
For my weeping:
In my adored and beautiful idol,
Who I believed to be faithful, faith is dead.
I find charm only in weeping,
I nourish myself by my tears,
Grief is my delight
And my moans are my joy.
Every anguish pleases me,
Every sadness is my delight,
My sobs heal me,
And my sighs console me.
But if he denies faith,
He who is fickle and treacherous,
At least faithfully serve me
Until death, oh my sorrow!
Every tear sooths me,
All my mourning lasts forever,
So much does each ill afflict me
That it kills and buries me.
“Artemisia worked hard to do a great job in Judith that kills Holofernes – that slaughters Holofernes we should say! – in two large versions (Florence and Naples) and a small replica on blackboard conserved by the Archbishop of Milan. But the split between thought and result, between civilization and creation that we already sensed in Orazio, is repeated here in his daughter’s work with an almost tragic fate, as pictorial qualities of the first order will be lost due to disgust. Who would think that over a sheet so candid with shades worthy of a Vermeer, a so brutal and terrible massacre could happen that they seemed painted by the hand of an executioner? But – comes the urge to say – but this is the terrible woman! A woman painted all this?
We ask for mercy. We do not want in any case to follow Schmerber in his observations on the big sadistic spirit of the time, since there is nothing sadistic here, if what is surprising is, in fact, the feral impassibility of who painted this, and she even managed to find that the blood spurting with violence can adorn the central jet with two edges of flying droplets! Incredible, I tell you! And then, for God’s sake, give Mrs. Schiattesi – this is the wedding name of Artemisia – the time to choose the hilt of the sword for her need! Finally, don’t you think that Judith moves as much as possible to prevent the blood to stain her yellow silk gown?
Anyway we think that the gown must be from Gentileschi’s home, the finest silk wardrobe of the European XVII century, second only to Van Dyck’s…”.
Roberto Longhi, Padre e Figlia, L’Arte, 1916
Stefano LANDI (1587 – 1639)
Alla guerra (Quinto libro delle arie, Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1637)
To the wars of love
Hasten, o Lovers:
No more sighing,
No more torments.
To the wars of love,
To arms, to arms.
Help, help, my heart is leaving me!
Where is my life?
Ah! Cruel parting:
Critics and art historians agree on the idea that Artemisia was a very receptive artist able to let different influences nourish her art. Her constant travelling exposed her to many connections and very different tastes. This nature led to a diversified style in her production.
Artemisia’s obsessions – transformed into a dazzling and sensual imagery – soon became a successful formula which gave her control over her clients and patrons. In her letters she reveals to be as much a businesswoman and a passionate artist, interested in dominating the market as well as mastering her art. Managing her own career she accomplished very much, achieving important and remunerative commissions.
She passionately loved one of her patrons. Their epistolary exchange, recently published, discloses a stormy relationship. In one letter she scolds her lover for acting inappropriately, in his private, with her paintings: revealing, if it is still necessary, the sensual power of simulacra. Images like seductive, soothing and fertile drops of gold.
Dario CASTELLO (1590 – 1658)
Sonata X (Sonate concertate in stil moderno, Libro II, Venezia, Bartolomeo Magni, 1644)
Framing Artemisia is impossible. Portraying her many faces too difficult. She leaves us mesmerized, amazed as in front of a kaleidoscope. Independent from her father’s art as an artist, emancipated by the morbid aspects of her life, nonetheless she still invites us not to forget that girl furiously shouting out her wild anger.
Sì dolce è ’l tormento (C. Milanuzzi: Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, Venezia, Alessandro Vincenti, 1624)
So sweet is the torment
in my breast
that happily do I live
for cruel beauty.
In the heaven of beauty
let cruelty grow
and mercy be lacking:
for my faith will always
be as a rock,
in the face of pride.
Let deceitful hope
turn away from me,
let neither joy nor peace
descend on me.
And let the wicked girl
whom I adore
deny me the solace
of sweet mercy:
amid infinite pain,
amid hope betrayed,
my faith will survive.
The hard heart
that stole mine away
has never felt love’s flame.
The cruel beauty
that charmed my soul
so let it suffer,
repentant and languishing, and
let it sigh one day for me.