Friday, June 10, 2005

Artemisia Gentileschi

I previously posted about Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes. I decided to do a search at the Web Gallery of Art for other renditions of the subject.
I was quite surprised to come across three paintings dealing with this theme by a 17th Century (1593 - 1652) female artist - Artemisia (daughter of Orazio) Gentileschi. (Self portrait as The Allegory of Painting)
The first may be found in Naples and the influence of Caravaggio is obvious. It is even more violent than Caravaggio's painting and unusually involves Judith's maid very directly in the action - she holds down the struggling Holofernes. I think it's worth noting that Gentileschi's Judith is much calmer than Caravaggio's and is more chastley dressed.
In Florence we find her second canvas depicting Judith Beheading Holofernes. It's quite similar to the first one, with the maidservant retaining her unusual role. I think Judith's face is a little more determined in this second painting.
Thirdly, in Florence we have the aftermath - Judith and her Maidservant. It's a curious composition with the two main characters looking off to the right as if distracted and the head of Holofernes being almost incidental to the whole scene.
I suppose the interesting thing about these paintings (and this may explain some of the unusual aspects of the works) is the context in which they were painted. They are dated about 1612. This biography explains:
Among those with whom Orazio worked was the Florentine artist Agostino Tassi, whom Artemisia accused of raping her in 1612, when she was nineteen. Her father filed suit against Tassi for injury and damage, and, remarkably, the transcripts of the seven-month-long rape trial have survived. According to Artemisia, Tassi, with the help of family friends, attempted to be alone with her repeatedly, and raped her when he finally succeeded in cornering her in her bedroom. He tried to placate her afterwards by promising to marry her, and gained access to her bedroom (and her person) repeatedly on the strength of that promise, but always avoided following through with the actual marriage. The trial followed a pattern familiar even today: she was accused of not having been a virgin at the time of the rape and of having many lovers, and she was examined by midwives to determine whether she had been "deflowered" recently or a long time ago. Perhaps more galling for an artist like Gentileschi, Tassi testified that her skills were so pitiful that he had to teach her the rules of perspective, and was doing so the day she claimed he raped her. Tassi denied ever having had sexual relations with Gentileschi and brought many witnesses to testify that she was "an insatiable whore." Their testimony was refuted by Orazio (who brought countersuit for perjury), and Artemisia's accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi's boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia's expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-in-law and was charged with arranging the murder of his wife. He was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi; he served under a year in prison and was later invited again into the Gentileschi household by Orazio.
If you want to find out a bit more there's an interesting web site dedicated to the life and works of Artemisia Gentileschi here.

No comments: