Women’s History Month Artist Spotlight: Artemisia Gentileschi

 In MOA Features

Guest post by Caroline Parry, MOA Marketing and PR Intern

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter and the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi. Orazio was also a Baroque painter, a revolutionary artist that followed famed artist Caravaggio. Artemisia learned many of her artistic skills and techniques from her father, and in so doing, became a second-generation follower of Caravaggio and his style. Even as a very young woman, she demonstrated exceptional talent and skill.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1656), “Judith Slaying,” Holofernes,” 1614-1620, oil on canvas, 78.3 x 63.9 inches. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi suffered many horrific events during her life, which influenced her artistic subjects and style. As a teenager, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, and he did not fulfill his promise to marry her. Her father, Orazio, took him to court and Artemisia was forced to give evidence while under torture. Some believe that is why her famous work, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620), was more gruesome and vindictive in nature from other iterations of the same subject by different artists.

Later in her career, Gentileschi entered Florence’s Academy of Design—the first woman to ever do so. Here her artistic style developed further. She became famous for her historical paintings, which was revolutionary for a woman to do at a time; other women artists tended to focus on genre or portraiture paintings. She became a member of the Medici court and her work flourished there. Her colors became more brilliant than her father’s and she used the technique of tenebrism, made famous by Caravaggio.

She made her way to London and worked with her father in court there. They worked side by side on the Great Hall in the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Her father died and she kept working in London, where she surpassed her father in fame. During the final days in her life, she lived in Naples where she continued to paint. There are no records that indicate how long she lived, but historians assume that she died in about 1656, at age 63.

Gentileschi’s work is considered some of the most important to come from the Italian Baroque genre and her fearless portrayal of grand subjects continues to inspire millions.

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