Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Artemesia Gentileschi

Essential Artemesia

The Artdog Images of Interest

I’m celebrating “Women’s ART History Month” this March, with a new “Image of Interest” post each week that features a small collection of images and a few biographical snippets about some of my favorite women artists.

These women made their mark in what has been for centuries a world that belonged mostly to men. Some are better known than others, but I hope you’ll enjoy the work of all.

Where else could I start, but with Artemesia Gentileschi?

Artemesia Gentilesci’s Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-39.

Artemesia is widely acknowledged as “the most important woman painter” of her time, the only woman admitted to the Academia dell’Arte del Disgeno in Florence. Typically of the male chauvinists who dominated the art history field for centuries, Artemesia’s paintings were not even recognized as her own until late into the 20th Century.

It’s crazy to realize, but as far as we know, Artemesia’s first-ever solo show didn’t happen till 1991 (this is really pushing the idea of “better late than never” to previously-unimagined lengths). It was held at Casa Buonarroti in Florence, the same place where Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger commissioned her to paint Allegory of Inclination in 1615.

Artemesia Gentileschi’s Allegory of Inclination, 1615, painted for Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger.

Taught to paint by her father Orazio Gentileschi (and unfortunately also by a lowlife slime named Agostino Tassi), Artemesia was influenced by both Orazio’s work, and that of his friend Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, as attested by her marvelous use of the chiaroscuro technique, and of tenebrism in her paintings.

Infamously, the story of how she was a rape victim always seems to get a lot of play in her biographies. Partly this may be because it is one of the best-documented aspects of her life. The horrifying transcripts of the months-long trial have survived. But mainly it’s the sensational nature of the story. Many other facts about her life have faded into obscurity in most bios.

Judith and her maidservant really put their backs into their work, in Judith Slaying Holofernes1614-20.

One thing that hasn’t faded, however is the vivid and poetically ageless revenge she took on men (especially in the person of Holofernes–could her model have been Tassi?) in her paintings. 

According to one biography, Judith Slaying Holofernes was painted for Cosimo II de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who hid the painting from view as he believed it was “too horrifying to behold.I’ve got to say that the expression on Judith’s face probably does have a tendency to make the cojones shrivel.

Artemesia included a glimpse of old Holofernes’s head and a rather badass-looking sword, when she accessorized Judith and her Maidservant1613-14.

Even before the sordid rape episode, her Susanna and the Elders (a masterwork produced when she was 17) makes it clear she already knew all too well what it felt like to be objectified.

Anyone who doesn’t cringe in empathy with poor Susanna in Artemesia’s Susanna and the Elders, 1610, has only ever been on the oglers’ side of the interaction.

A true survey of her artwork reveals, of course, that she panted a far greater range of subjects than the battle of the sexes. Most of her subjects, indeed, were dictated by her patrons, but they still mostly feature rather-more-bold-than-usual women. The art critic Roberto Longhi wrote, “There are about fifty-seven works by Artemisia Gentileschi and 94% (forty-nine works) feature women as protagonists or equal to men.” Here are a few more wonderful pieces, to give you a glimpse of her range.

Artemesia’s The Penitent Magdalene, 1617-20, looks to me as if she might be having second thoughts. The color of her dress, by the way, is sometimes called “Gentileschi Gold.” Artemesia signed the painting on the back of Mary’s chair; as she often did during this period, she chose to use her uncle’s surname, rather than that of her father or her husband.
Did Artemesia play the lute? Maybe. She appears to have a clue about fingering in this Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, 1615-17.
Let’s wrap with another later work, Clio, the Muse of History, 1632. As well she should, Clio appears undaunted by the weight of history (“muse of,” after all). So too, Artemesia’s work has stood up quite well to the test of time. 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Royal Collection (of the British Royal Family) for the self-portrait image of Artemisia at work, to Art History Archive, for the Allegory of Inclination image, to Wikipedia and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for the image of Judith in her moment of gory triumph, and to Wikipedia and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence for the image of the wickedly-accessorized Judith-plus-one; also for the painting of Mary Magdalene in the golden gown. Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Web Gallery of Art for the image of Susanna and the dirty old men, as well as the same duo for the photo of the self-confident Clio (the painting is in the Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa, a savings bank in Pisa, Italy). Finally, many thanks to Wikipedia and The History Blog for Artemesia’s self portrait with the lute; the painting itself is currently in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Rape culture

In preparing my recent post about the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, I necessarily spent some time thinking about her experiences with rape and other forms of exploitation (and how she processed those experiences into her powerful paintings), including absolutely outrageous abuse at the hands of the court during her trial.

Artemesia Gentileschi’s 1610 painting Susanna and the Dirty Old Men (Okay, so officially it’s Susanna and the Elders) eloquently captures how if feels to be ogled as a lust-object.

That, in turn, led me back to “rape culture.” All the classic abuses present in Artemesia’s case–the minimization of the offense, the victim-blaming, the publicly abusive treatment of an already-traumatized young woman–can still all too often be found in rape or sexual harassment cases today.

What is “rape culture,” you might ask? There are variations on the definition, but it all boils down to a culture-wide normalization of violence against women. It’s a situation in which every encounter carries the potential for danger.

Cartoonist Matt Bors captured the dilemma in this 2014 panel.

“Normalization” means no one’s really that surprised when it happens . . . again. Or that it happens mostly to women, children, the mentally disabled, trans, or gender non-conforming individuals (perceived as “weaker”).

It means people make crude jokes about it, even while acknowledging “yeah, it’s bad to do that.” The asymmetrical balance of power and the pain inherent in the situation can also result in more “sane” humorous takes–with the emphasis on the pain.

Donald Glover offers humor for a moment when “If I can’t find a way to laugh I might go crazy.”

It means a cultural norm that allows adults to give children unwanted hugs or kisses and demand that they accept the treatment–thereby training them that boundaries may be transgressed when one party has more power than the other.

On the campaign trail last year Ted Cruz and his daughter Caroline gave us an unintentional example of how even a well-meaning adult can ignore a child’s signals. Cultural norms can be insidious when they teach that it’s okay to ignore boundaries (such as personal space).

Normalization is a climate in which sexual violence can frequently be portrayed in entertainment media, sometimes as “edgy.” All too often, rape-culture-inured audiences find it entertaining in a sexually provocative way.

A still from The Isle, a Korean film that explores some of the darker human passions.

The same line of thought minimizes the transgression and excuses the aggressor: “He couldn’t help himself.” “She led him on.”

Normalization places the onus on the victim to avoid the danger: “She shouldn’t have been drinking.” “She was asking for it.” “She shouldn’t dress like that,” or “She wore that short skirt.” The logical extension of “she should have dressed more modestly” is that we end up in a niqab. (Oh, but those eyes–so provocative! Surely she must be asking for it!) My point? You can never win that argument by giving in to the (il)logic.

Modesty, cultural norms, and a long history result in some women feeling much more comfortable when they are as hidden from others’ view as possible.

Another classic line: “She shouldn’t have been walking there.” Is it really acceptable for there to be some parts of one’s own hometown were one feels unsafe? More: is it acceptable for some to feel even more unsafe than others?

Would you  be afraid to walk down this alley by yourself? Or would you walk a much-farther distance to avoid it, even if you were in spike heels? Risk-evaluation is an everyday calculation for many of us.

After one of the all-too-frequent mass shootings in recent years, I remember reading a letter to the editor of my local paper. The author, a man, wrote about how terrible he thought it would be if (from fear of terrorists) he were afraid to go certain places or wear certain types of clothing (to avoid making himself a target).

“Ha!” I thought. “Welcome to every woman’s world!”

Both Margaret Atwood and Gavin deBecker have been credited with an observation that could be used as a chilling summation of how things work, in a rape culture. Certainly it echoes Donald Glover’s theme above. They said:

Rape culture: is it really acceptable to live like this?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Web Gallery of Art for the photo of Artemesia’s wonderful painting, and to Matt Bors and The Nib for the cartoon about the hazards of dating. Many thanks to Donald Glover via Rasheeda Price’s “Being a Woman” Pinterest board, for the “crazy boyfriend” joke. For the full story about Ted Cruz and his daughter, I’m indebted to The Daily Caller. Many thanks to Yogesh P. Bhadja’s Tikdom.TK post “Cinema” for the still from The Isle. I appreciate the Australian ABC News “Explainer,” for the photo of three niqab-clad women (the article that went with it, about traditional types of clothing is also fascinating). Many thanks to The Huffington Post for the “scary alley” photo, from their thought-provoking article, “Visiting a Rough Neighborhood can Influence Trust, Paranoia,” and to Boldomatic for the graphic of the Atwood/DeBecker quote.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén