Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) – an unwomanly painter, humiliated and forgotten for centuries

Artemisia Gentileschi, unknown saint, private collection

Artemisia Gentileschi, unknown saint, private collection

She was one of the greatest artists of her time, perhaps the most outstanding continuator of the works of Caravaggio. In Rome only a few of her works can be seen, which document the early phase of the development of her talent. The best ones, true rarities of Baroque art, filled with dramatic tension, strong  chiaroscuro contrasts, often brutal verismo, can be seen mainly in Naples and Florence (and other world museums).
Artemisia Gentileschi, unknown saint, private collection
Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna with Child, fragment, Galleria Spada
Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna with Child, Galleria Spada
Artemisia Gentileschi, St. Cecilia Playing the Lute, Galleria Spada
Artemisia Gentileschi, self-portrait, Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Artemisia Gentileschi, The Death of Cleopatra, private collection
Artemisia Gentileschi, The Death of Cleopatra, private collection
Artemisia Gentileschi, Cleopatra, private collection
She was one of the greatest artists of her time, perhaps the most outstanding continuator of the works of Caravaggio. In Rome only a few of her works can be seen, which document the early phase of the development of her talent. The best ones, true rarities of Baroque art, filled with dramatic tension, strong  chiaroscuro contrasts, often brutal verismo, can be seen mainly in Naples and Florence (and other world museums).


It was her father who introduced her to the secrets of art, a known, but not highly valued Roman painter and at the same time a good friend of Caravaggio - Orazio Gentileschi. She often modeled for him as well. However, the rest of her life as well as career was influenced by contacts with another of her father’s friends, with whom he collaborated on numerous frescos in Roman churches, a valued master of perspectives - Agostino Tassi. His teachings of perspectives turned into something more. Whether she was raped or not – we do not know – however, suffice it to say Artemisia’s father accused his friend of disgracing his daughter. Since Tassi, on his part also accused her of fornication, a degrading trial began, during which she was subjected to humiliating medical tests and investigations which were to establish her psychological profile (was she a girl of loose morals  or not). In the end Tassi was sentenced (also for the theft of paintings) to eight months in prison, however, the reputation of the young woman, despite marriage, never recovered. Due to all this, in 1612, she left for Florence, where she gave birth to a girl, but most of all received ambitious painting commissions, which gave testimony to her gradually freeing herself from the painting mannerisms of her father. At that time her patron was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II.

In time Gentileschi’s fame became so grounded that in 1623 she decided to return to Rome, responding to the invitations of numerous clients, among them the papal nepot and an enthusiast of art - Francesco Barberini. However, she did not stay long in the city on the Tiber. In 1630 she went to Naples, where her talent truly shined. For a time she also worked at the court of King Charles I in England.



She died in Naples, besieged by illnesses and financial problems. Memories of her also vanished. She was discovered anew in the 1960’s and even then not without a problem. Artemisia left behind art that was so unwomanly, while her paintings, on which Holofernes is butchered like an animal, and the figures of women emanate with such erotic power (St. Susanna or Lucretia, were so far removed from the standard understanding of „womanly art” (which for centuries was associated with miniatures, portraits, still nature, or flower compositions), that contemporary researchers were hard-pressed to admit that they were indeed painted by a woman’s hand. A lot of time had passed, until individual canvas were attributed to her. Today she is admired more than most of the artists of the Seicento period (other than Caravaggio), while exhibitions of her paintings enjoy such popularity which would make jealous any of her fellow painters of her time.

Galleria Spada

  •     Madonna and Child (1611), early work, painted in the workshop of her father and under his influence
  •     Cecilia playing on a lute (1620), a work of an already mature painter, yet one who is still searching for her artistic style