Who was Artemisia Gentileschi? | National Gallery

Who was Artemisia Gentileschi? | National Gallery

My name is Letizia Treves
and I am the James and Sarah Sassoon Curator of the Later Italian, Spanish, and
17th century French paintings here at the National Gallery. I’m absolutely delighted
to talk to you today about our new acquisition, this ‘Self Portrait as
Saint Catherine of Alexandria’, by Artemisia Gentileschi. Now Artemisia is,
without doubt, the most celebrated female artist of the 17th century
and it has been on our wish list here at the Gallery to have a painting
by her for a very long time and we’re delighted to have had the opportunity now to buy this
newly discovered work and, not only as a work by Artemisia, but the fact that we have a self-portrait of the artist as well, it seemed like an
opportunity too good to miss for us. Like Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi’s life story has somewhat overshadowed
her artistic achievements. In 1611, when she was just
17, something happened that really changed her life both professionally and
personally. She was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, who was a collaborator and
acquaintance of her father’s, Orazio. He’d been brought in to teach
Artemisia the art of perspective. A long trial followed and we know the details
of that trial because the documents survive and we know that Artemisia was
tortured and she was subjected to really grueling questioning. Tassi was prosecuted but his
punishment was never enforced and so Artemisia was married
off quickly to a Florentine artist shortly afterwards and she left Rome for
Florence and it’s in Florence that she arrives in 1612 as a young woman and
it’s the first chance that she can work outside of the shadow of her father as
well and it’s from this period in Florence between 1612 and 1620 where she
sort of establishing her artistic independence that this picture dates. In this painting Artemisia decided to portray herself as Saint Catherine of
Alexandria, the 4th century saint, Saint Catherine was tortured:
she was tied to a wheel with iron spikes and she was miraculously rescued by divine intervention and here she is putting her hand on the wheel, the instrument of her
torture, and you can see here that it’s broken and what I love about this
picture is it shows her as a martyr Saint: she’s holding the palm, she was later beheaded, but actually she shows her resilience; a
sort of quiet resilience in this picture. It’s at this time when Artemisia’s
working in Florence that she uses her own image quite a lot. We see a number of self-portraits that survive from these days and there are
others that are recorded in inventories and described. She was clearly a very
beautiful woman and she would have been recognizable to people at the time but
there is a sense, a kind of self propaganda, in these pictures. There was
clearly a demand for them but it’s her very much promoting her image in
Florence to this very kind of elite clientele at the Medici court and in
this picture in particular the way she puts her hand on the wheel, you know,
she’s actually survived the torture and she’s come through and I think it’s that
quiet determination and resilience which one can’t help but read into that also
Artemisia’s own story: that she survived a very difficult personal event in her
life and she sort of came through and her artistic career in this moment in
Florence, when this picture was painted, really took off. She is finding her feet as an independent artist. She’s the first woman
to join the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, at the Artists’ Academy. I find the image so powerful and I loved
it from the moment I saw it in a photograph. I think she’s so arresting
the way she looks out of the picture. It has so much wall power and the pictures quite dirty. I think the cleaning and restoration will really bring that, will out bring out a lot of the three-dimensionality of the picture but
I can’t wait to hang it on the walls of one of my Galleries but I can see her
hanging quite comfortably next to Caravaggio, next to her father Orazio. Of course, she knew Caravaggio as a young girl: her father was an associate of
Caravaggio’s and I think she’d really hold her own next to these artists. She’s a very, very accomplished painter in her own right.

15 thoughts on “Who was Artemisia Gentileschi? | National Gallery

  1. Thanks for the very interesting albeit saddening upload. The story of Artemesia is quite something. Had never heard of her before. Thanks!

  2. The National Gallery, thanks for sharing curatorial videos with all of us, they're highly educational. Congratulations on your new acquisition and on Letizia Treves's talk, she's one of the most scholarly Curators of your Gallery !

  3. This was a really lovely film series to watch! Lovely to be given an insight into the small discoveries typically found during conservation treatments/cleaning particularly, and to see some of the discussion unfold between the two custodians. Looking forward to seeing the portrait displayed in the galleries.

  4. Unlike Artemissia, Tassi was known in history more by infamy than by his works. This work is magnificent and precious.

  5. What a wonderful discovery! I much prefer her work over that of Caravaggio. I would love to own a print of this painting.

  6. Looking forward to seeing this cleaned. A beautifully strong painting. There’s some weird over painting by someone else of her left hand, the knuckles are to close to her hand, particularly the little finger. Or did they actually break her fingers when she was tortured?

  7. I just recently discovered her by buying an old book from my local library, which was getting rid of books by selling them for almost nothing.
    Thisnovel, The passion of Artemisia Gentileschi ( translated into Danish actually) seemed interesting. I had never heard of AG before – now I want to learn everything about her.
    I can strongly recommend the book.

  8. Grateful for this short video filled with right on information. Grazie Letizia. Can’t wait to see what you guys at the National Gallery have plan for 2020 to commemorate Artemisia!!! ❤️ (It was about time, as an artist and art teacher I will be only glad to have major support on a subject such as Artemisia that I have been teaching.)

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