We who love the paintings of the 17th century, will most often be acquainted with Artemisia Gentileschi; for not only was she a quite a fine painter, but as a woman practicing her craft in patriarchal Rome, her images of Judith and Bathsheba easily qualify as feminist icons.
Artemisia struggles with patriarchal arrogance seem to leap from her paintings depicting avenging heroines defying malignant males.
Artemisia is also of course known to have suffered from a rape. This rape is what her rapist, Agostino Tassi is best remembered for, if he is remembered at all .
Susanna and the Elders
(Please note Artemisia was 16 when she painted this image.)
As this blog is primarily devoted to images, I would like to examine Artemisia and Agostino through their work.
Artemisisa Gentileschi, (1593-ca. 1653) was Roman born, a fact from her letters that seems to have given her enormous pride.
In a letter, dated November 13, 1649, in explaining herself to a patron concludes with ” I am Roman, and therefore I shall act always in the Roman manner” (source; Gentileschi’s Letters in The Voices of Women Artists, edited Wendy Slatkin).
Artemisia, the daughter of Caravaggio’s chum Orazio Gentileschi ( another fine painter, well worth exploring) must have with her enormous talent found herself butting heads with less gifted male students.
I know from my own limited experience, the competitive nature of artistic training, a life- drawing session brings up all sorts of emotion:envy, insecurity, bravado.What was it like to have such a young girl as a studio mate , blessed with such gifts?
It must have been humbling at best, infuriating to some.
I believe Agostino Tassi (1578-1644) charged with her education must have seen the disparity between their talents.I believe his envy prompted his base act. By debasing this young talent he could assuage the sting of his wounded ego.
Of course I am only speculating.
Self portrait as a Female Martyr
oil on canvas
This self-portrait was painted 3 years after the grueling trial of 1612 (which lasted 7 months), during which time she , the victim, endured physical torture, public humiliation and the indignity of seeing her attacker ultimately acquitted. For more details concerning the trial I suggest this link.
This self portrait bears little witness to the enormous fury she must have felt (aside of course for the heroic title). She does go on to become a well regarded and successful painter, but it is quite difficult not to read between the lines when confronted with her powerful Amazons.
Judith and Her Maidservant
oil on canvas
Yael and Sisara
Budapest Museum of Fine Art
When Gentileschi created a work designed to titillate the male viewer, I find myself taken aback. I enjoy this image, difficult not to, but what did she need to suppress in order to create such vulnerable beauty?
Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond Virginia
She does gripe, in the same letter from which I cited previously that:
” I assure Your Most Illustrious Lordship that these are paintings with nude figures requiring very expensive female models, which is a big headache . When I find good ones they fleece me, and at other times, one must suffer [their] pettiness with the patience of Job”.
She really tickles me with her confidence and her frankness; this is a woman who will not negotiate her price, not matter how grand his Most Illustrious Lordship may be.
I was unable to locate a portrait of our villain Tassi, but Geltileschi’s portrait of a condottieri seemed a fitting illustration of brash male ruthlessness, a quality a man such as Tassi would need to possess.
Portrait of a Condottieri
Aside from raping Artemisia , Tassi is known as a master of perspective work; no mean feat, particular notable in his excellence at quadratura, the illusionistic brushwork that so many Baroque ceilings quite literally depend upon. The beautiful Aurora ceiling by Guercino would appear aimlessly floating without Tassi’s masterful framework.
Guercino and Agostino Tassi
You would be wise to check out this link, marvelous details of the painting and the Villa.
Tassi’s masterful understanding of perspective is well illustrated in this competent , yet quite chilly painting.
Competition on the Capitoline Hill
oil on canvas
Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome
Artemisia was not the only pupil of Tassi’s with enormous gifts that might have taxed his ego; Claude Lorrain spent time as an apprentice to Tassi, young Claude was reduced to grinding pigment and tasks better suited to a char woman. Lorrain would of course go on to surpass his master, but this paintings certainly could have provided inspiration to Lorrain’s budding genius.
Imaginary Landscape with Temple of Sybil at Tivoli
Palazzo Lancelotti, Rome
I will close with an image by the student , Lorrain’s sketch of a lusty satyr seems an appropriate way to conclude this topic.
Drawing of a Satyr, a Girl and Goats
black chalk heightened with white
British Museum, London