28. Artemisia Gentileschi – The toughest painter in art history

by | Dec 22, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter. She painted her earliest signed and dated work, “Susanna and the Elders,” around 1610, when she was just 17. Her father, Orazio was also a painter, but Artemisia had natural gifts. Before she was even 20 years old, her talent outmatched that of her peers who were twice her age. Born in Rome, Italy, on July 8, 1593, Gentileschi is credited as one of the greatest female painters of the Baroque period. She likely met Caravaggio as a child, perhaps the most famous Baroque painter in Italy, and her art shows a certain hint of his style, with the chiaroscuro, or contrasting light and dark.

Unfortunately though Artemisia did not have an easy life. She lost her mother when she was 12 years old and then suffered another tragedy five years later, when she was raped by one of her father’s colleagues, Agostino Tassi. When Tassi refused to marry her, her father pursued a legal case against him. The trial took several months and Artemisia was tortured to try to get her to confess that she was not actually raped. They used something called a thumbscrew, which is as horrible as it sounds. Her fingers were placed inside this device, with sharp spikes on the inside, and screws were twisted, tightening it and slowly piercing and crushing her fingers. Even with that pain, she refused to confess and in a rarely won battle, the court exiled Tassi from Rome, however, the order was never enforced.

Today, some say she’s a cursed artist. Artemisia never caught a break. She had to fight at every turn for recognition in her lifetime. She survived public shaming, torture and rape. She later endured an unhappy marriage with an unemployable husband, the deaths of her children, debt and complete falling out with her father. Artemisia had forever bad luck, no sooner had she secured a place at the English court than her patron King Charles I got his head chopped off due to his war with parliament. She then fled to Naples, only to be greeted by  another bloody revolution. She died there, probably in 1654, but in the last turn of bad luck, her grave is lost.

Today, Artemisia is finally gaining some recognition. If you’ve never heard of her, I hope you’ll look her up, and share her beautiful art and tragic story with others. Four centuries is a long time to wait, but we can try to finally give Artemisia the glory she so deserves.


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Ciao, I'm Rachel

I am obsessed with everything Italian! After years living in Italy, being married to an Italian, getting my Italian citezenship through my Pugliese lineage, a BA in Italian language and literature, then a MA in Italian Art History, I have lots of experience with this country! Hang out with me to learn more!