Artemisia Gentileschi

Play episode

Bruce Gulland and Megan Nollet talk about the interesting art and life of the Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2

And I’m Megan Nollet. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Click here to follow along with this program on YouTube

Voice 1

Imagine a painting of a woman holding painting tools. Her black, wavy hair spills over her shoulder. She wears green clothing and gold jewlery. But it is clear she has not taken much time to work on her appearance. Her face is firm. She concentrates on a painting. It is as if she and the painting are the only things that exists.

Voice 2

This painting is by the Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi. It is a painting of herself. But Gentileschi is not only painting herself. She paints herself representing the spirit of art itself. One of the few successful female artists in Europe, Gentileschi created paintings with strong women. And often she used herself as a model. Though forgotten after her death, historians now believe she is one of the most important artists of her time.

Today’s Spotlight is on Artemisia Gentileschi.

Voice 1

Artemisia Gentileschi was born in 1593 in the Italian city of Rome. Her father was the famous painter Orazio Gentileschi. Teaching women to paint was not common in those days. But Orazio soon saw that Artemisia had a talent. And he decided to teach her more. By the time she was seventeen, she was creating work of her own.

Voice 2

One of these early paintings was called “Susanna and the Elders.” It shows a story from the Catholic and Orthodox Bible. In this story, two men in the community spy on a beautiful woman named Susanna while she is bathing. The two men lust after her. They demand to have sex with her. They attempt to sexually attack her.

Voice 1

Many other artists painted this story. Most paintings of the story show this point in time. But the painters often show the setting as the men would have seen it. Susanna is a victim. But she also seems to be an object of lust. In many, she seems to be inviting them. Susanna’s body is the ideal version of a woman. That body is the center of those paintings. 

Voice 2

Artemisia’s painting is different. It shows Susana turning away from the men attacking her. She pushes the men away from her. She hides her face in shame. The painting centers not on her body, but on her face. It looks away in disbelief and anger.

Voice 1

Artemisia’s painting is also interesting because of how realistic it is. Other artists show Susanna as an ideal body. But Artemisia Gentileschi’s Susanna has the body of a real woman. She may have even represented her own body in the painting. Litizia Treves works at the National Gallery of London. She spoke to the New Yorker magazine about Gentileschi’s work.

Voice 3

“The way she paints the female body is very natural. This is someone who really understands the hang of a woman’s breast. She has a real sense of how a woman’s body behaves.”

Voice 2

“Susanna and the Elders” is one of the first paintings that shows a sexual attack as a woman would experience it. And Artemisia painted it when she was just seventeen.

Voice 1

Sadly, Artemisia would soon experience the things she painted. Agostino Tassi was a painter and friend of Artemisia’s father. He sexually attacked Artemisia when she was just eighteen. Tassi promised Artemisia marriage afterwards. Then he went back on his promise. Artemisia and her father took Tassi to court for the attack. But the judges forced Artemisia to testify. The testimony was very public. And the court made her wear thumbscrews while she spoke. These small metal devices of torture put pressure on a person’s fingers. These thumbscrews were supposed to make sure Artemisia was telling the truth. But it was a painful and dehumanizing experience. 

Voice 2

Eventually, the court decided Tassi was guilty. They sent him into exile from the city. But the trial was very public. People saw Artemisia as a disgraced woman. But she was the victim. She had done nothing wrong. She soon married a man named Pierantonio Stiattesi. Together they left for the city of Florence. She had to leave the city where she was born because of one man’s selfish actions.

Voice 1

The pain and suffering Artemisia went through would have stopped many people. Her work as a painter could have ended. But Artemisia was a strong person. She continued to paint. And she turned her personal experience into art.

Voice 2

One of Artemisia’s most famous paintings is called “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” In the painting, two women stand over a man in a bed. The first woman appears over the man’s head. In one hand, she holds a sword. The hand other holds the man’s hair. The man struggles against her. But the two women hold him down. The first woman brings the sword against the man’s neck and pulls it across his neck. The man’s face is a mixture of pain and fear. But the two woman do not seem troubled. Their faces are serious. This is a job that they must get done.

Voice 1

This is another story from the Catholic and Orthodox Bible. It shows a woman named Judith killing an enemy general in secret. Other artists had painted this story before. But Gentileschi’s version is personal. She painted Judith to look like her. And, some historians believe that the man may look like Tassi. The painting may have been a way of getting back at the man who hurt her. The painting not only shows a famous story from the Bible. It is a way of showing that her experience would not defeat her.

Voice 2

Artemisia continued to paint for her whole life. And she was extremely successful. She became one of the first women in Europe to ever make a living from her artwork. She was even invited to join a famous arts school in Florence. She was the first woman ever to join. Soon people knew about her all over the continent. She made paintings for royalty in England, Spain, and Italy. And she did it all while giving birth to five children.

Voice 1

Still, Artemisia struggled. Because she was a woman, people often paid less for her paintings. And, when she died, people quickly forgot about her. Historians saw her as strange. It was not until the twentieth century that people began to re-discover her work. Her paintings often put women in places of respect or power. These spoke to many feminist thinkers. She was a woman who achieved high honor in a time that did not accept successful women. She defeated her pain and became an important international artist.

Voice 2

Art often helps people get through difficulties or understand themselves. Have you ever made any art? What did it teach you about yourself? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radio english.net. You can also comment on Facebook at facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Dan Christmann. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Artemisia Gentileschi.

Voice 2

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program.

Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever made any art? What did it teach you about yourself?

Join the discussion

1 comment

More from this show

Episode 27