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  • Russ Ramsey

Artemisia Gentileschi—Woman on Fire

For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at the confounding, violent, and focused works from the amazing 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi—a rare female artist from the Italian Renaissance, in the style of Caravaggio.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1639


Gentileschi’s work is known for its violence and focus on women. In most versions of this scene by done by men, Judith looks fearful and hesitant. Gentileschi’s Judith is confident and assured. Compare Gentileschi’s version of Judith’s expression with Caravaggio’s in the second image below. They have very different takes on what Judith must have been feeling.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1611


Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1602


Gentileschi was drawn to paint misunderstood women, those either abused by men in positions of power over them or women of dubious reputations who deserved better. She wanted to show their strength and defend their honor.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Jael and Sisera, c. 1620


A sad but important part of Gentileschi’s story involves being raped by her art teacher, and taking him to trial. This was 1611. She was tortured with thumbscrews to verify her testimony and her rapist was eventually exiled from Rome.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Samson and Delilah, c. 1638


Gentileschi painted many Biblical scenes, often focusing on women. One historian, Robert Longhi, noted, “There are about fifty-seven works by Artemisia Gentileschi and 94% of them feature women as protagonists or equal to men.”

Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Magdalene, 1620


In the initial reading I’ve done (I’m just getting to know Gentileschi), her life is filled with grief, pain, mistreatment, abandonment, but also much success and notoriety. Art Wednesday is one of the ways I begin to get to know artists who are new to me. I look forward to learning much more about Artemisia Gentileschi.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c. 1610-1615


Gentileschi (1593-1656) started young, painting professionally by the age of 15. She died in 1656, probably from the plague that swept through Naples where she spent the last years of her life.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant, c. 1625

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