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Gentileschi, Artemisia 1593–ca. 1653 Italian Painter

Gentileschi, Artemisia
1593–ca. 1653
Italian painter

Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the few female artists who gained an international reputation during the Renaissance. Her work stands out for its distinctive style and its expression of a woman's point of view. Many experts compare Artemisia to the Italian artist Caravaggio because of the dramatic realism and use of chiaroscuro (contrasting light and dark) in her work.

Born in Rome, Artemisia learned to paint from her father, Orazio. Her favorite subjects were female characters from the Bible or from history, such as Susanna and the Elders (1610). Artemisia's artistic training included lessons in perspective* by the artist Agostino Tassi, who raped his student in 1612. Tassi's trial lasted seven months and resulted in a light sentence for the artist and an arranged marriage to a Florentine artist for Artemisia. In 1616 she became the first female member of Florence's prestigious art school, the Accademia del Disegno. While in Florence she became friends with the scientist Galileo Galilei and made references to him in some of her paintings.

Artemisia returned to Rome around 1620 without her husband. She gained some important patrons* for her work but did not receive large commissions from the church. In 1628 she moved to Naples. There she painted a self-portrait (probably Self-Portrait as the Allegory* of Painting) that combined the traditional female symbol of art with a concern about the status of the artist in society. She also gained commissions for religious paintings. In 1638 she joined her father in England at the court of Charles I. Together they worked on frescoes* for the ceiling in the Great Hall of the queen's house at Greenwich. In 1641 she returned to Naples, where she spent the last years of her life.

For many years scholars dismissed Artemisia's work by giving her father credit for her paintings. Despite the lack of appreciation in her lifetime, Artemisia influenced several outstanding artists, including the Dutch master Rembrandt.

(See alsoArt; Art in Italy; Women. )

* perspective

artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* allegory

literary or artistic device in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the author intends a different meaning to be read beneath the surface

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

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