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My illustrious lordship, I’ll show you what a woman can do.” ~Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi (pronunciation) was born in Rome, Italy in 1593. Her father, Orazio Gentileschi (pronunciation), was also a painter, and taught Artemisia in the arts. Sadly, her mother, Prudenzia, died when she was only twelve years old.

Orazio was friends with Caravaggio (pronunciation), who was another distinguished Italian painter from the Baroque era. And it is evident in his and Artemisia’s works that they took inspiration from the artist.

Judith and her Maidservant (1623-1625)

In 1611, when Artemisia was only seventeen, Orazio hired another artist, Agostino Tassi (pronunciation) to further train Artemisia in painting. Regrettably, Tassi was not an honorable man. He took advantage of Artemisia and abused her. When her father found out, he pressed charges and Tassi was found guilty. Unfortunately, his sentence was never enforced because the Pope protected him.

Judith and her Maidservant (1618-1619)

Fueled by this injustice, Artemisia’s work took on a new attitude. She began to paint strong and courageous women who were men’s equals in every way. Often painting scenes from history or mythos, she frequently depicted situations where women gruesomely killed men.

However, despite the bold subjects, it isn’t believed that they were painted out of a mere obsession with violence or revenge. Rather that Artemisia took it upon herself to depict women who were strong, not weak or helpless, who fought for the greater good.

Jael and Sisera

Art historian, Raymond Ward Bissell, commented that “no one would have imagined that it was the work of a woman. The brush work was bold and certain and there was no sign of timidness.” (1999), Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: Critical Reading and Catalogue Raisonné.

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Soon after the trial, Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry a man named Pierantonio Stiattesi (pronunciation), who was also an artist. The two then moved to Florence, where Artemisia began to receive commissions from several wealthy patrons, including the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Charles I of England.

In 1618, Artemisia gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Prudentia after her mother. Prudentia grew up to follow in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a painter as well, though little is known about her work.

Conversion of the Magdalene

Artemisia returned to Rome in 1621, but it proved difficult to find commissions, therefore little is known of her movements during this time. In 1630 she moved to Naples, which supplied better job opportunities for her. She took on new commissions and collaborations, upon which Artemisia adapted her style to match those with whom she collaborated.

Saint Cecilia as a Lute Player

In 1638, King Charles I of England summoned Artemisia to the London court, where she was once again reunited with her father, Orazio, who had become one of the regular London court painters. For a while the two worked together on a commission to paint the ceiling of the Queen’s House in Greenwich, until Orazio died in 1639.

Artemisia had returned to Naples by 1642, where she spent the rest of her life painting, until her death sometime in 1656. However, her legacy lives on, and she will forever be remembered for the art she created to fight for women’s equality, showing bold women who weren’t afraid to stand up in the face of adversity.

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting