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“If anything, a sense of self, a sense of destiny, the fact that she belonged among the greats, was a defining mark of Artemisia’s personality.”
Artemisia Gentileschi was an acclaimed Baroque painter whose life was as compelling as her art. Born in Rome in 1593 to Prudenzia di Montone and the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi, Artemesia lost her mother when she was 12, leaving her to help raise her three brothers. Her father took the unusual step of training her as a painter, though there were few opportunities for women artists at the time. But Artemisia proved to be a prodigy, producing the masterpiece Susanna and the Elders (1610) and receiving a commission for a portrait while still a teenager.
When Artemisia was 17, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a painter her father knew. Tassi was ultimately found guilty, but the trial damaged Artemisia’s reputation. Nonetheless, she earned the respect of her peers and won royal commissions across Europe, becoming a much sought-after painter who worked in Venice, Florence, Rome, London, and Naples. She produced several renowned masterpieces, including the painting Lucretia (ca. 1635–45), which was recently rediscovered and acquired by the Getty. This work is a stunning example of Artemisia’s dramatic, naturalist style and her powerful portrayals of women.
In this episode, Sheila Barker, founding director of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists at the Medici Archive Project, discusses Artemisia’s extraordinary art and enduring legacy.
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JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
SHEILA BARKER: If anything, a sense of self, a sense of destiny, the fact that she belonged among the greats, was a defining mark of Artemisia’s personality.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Sheila Barker about the 17-century Italian painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.
Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593 to a Tuscan painter named Orazio Gentileschi. Trained by her father, Artemisia was working as a professional artist by the time she was a teenager, in an era when women artists rarely achieved success. In 1611, she was raped by the painter, Agostino Tassi. Artemisia’s father brought charges against Tassi. Although Tassi was found guilty, Artemisia’s career was damaged, prompting her to leave Rome for the Medici Court in Florence.
Despite her many personal challenges, Artemisia produced several masterpieces in a dramatic, naturalist style, working in Venice, Rome, and Naples. After a long and productive career, Artemisia died in Naples in 1656 of the Plague.
In 2021, the Getty Museum purchased Lucretia, a masterful painting by Artemisia dated circa 1627, and even more recently published two books about the artist by Sheila Barker, the founding director of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists at the Medici Archive Project.
I recently spoke with Sheila, about the life and work of Artemisia.
Well Sheila, thank you for joining me on this podcast episode. Now, you start your book by stating that Artemisia Gentileschi was a female painter in 17th- century Italy, and that that was quite different from being a male painter then. How different was it?
BARKER: Radically different. She was growing up in a rigidly gendered society. Role models, behaviors, even speech—all of it had a gendered aspect to it. And for her to decide to become a painter meant stepping away from all of those options that were available to her as a young girl, and having to choose to model herself after the male painters she knew.
Rome at that time was, was a strongly masculinized community of painters. It was a very rough-and-tumble town. Caravaggio was one of the artists she and her father admired the most. He committed a murder. One of her father’s closest friends was also involved in violent criminal activities. Her father and other artists that he ran around with—male artists, all male artists—were very litigious, getting into brawls, writing scandalous, scurrilous poetry about each other.
It was a competitive, harsh, violent world, if you’re a male painter in Rome. So yes, it was a radical step away from the world of women that she would’ve been originally raised to belong to.
CUNO: Did much of that activity occur within the studio of her father, and was that where she witnessed most of it?
BARKER: I hope that that wasn’t the case, but we know that her father owned music, which suggests that there was some sort of musical entertainment going on in the studio, other than simply the painting. Besides having friends over, perhaps, for musical entertainment, he also had models, live models in the studio. We know from trial records later on that both father and daughter used the same live models in the studio. So there were certainly all kinds of people coming into their home, which also served as the studio for both father and daughter.
CUNO: Did it matter if one trained as a woman painter in Rome, as Artemisia did, or in Venice or Florence? Were there different regional differences?
BARKER: We’re learning more and more about those differences in artistic training in the 16th-century, early s17th-century, when Artemisia undertook her apprenticeship with her father.
Rome stands apart from other cities in Italy because of its eclectic nature. It’s really a melting pot for artists coming from all different parts of Italy, as well as Europe, due to the changeability of its patron class. Every time there was a new cardinal or a new pope coming into town, that was a new source of patronage that tended to favor artists of that pope’s or cardinal’s hometown.
So there were lots of strangers and foreigners in the city, which meant that for Artemisia, Rome offered a panoply of artistic styles. Her father happened to have been trained in the Tuscan manner of painting; but he quickly gravitated to Caravaggio’s style of painting, with its Lombard influences. So yes, it meant a lot to be raised in Rome, as a painter.
CUNO: Now, you set the stage for our meeting Artemisia by introducing us first to her female role models in Rome. Tell us about these role models.
BARKER: Well, only a few of them were painters. Lavinia Fontana was a Bolognese portrait painter primarily, but also religious history painter, who was invited to Rome between 1603 and 1604. She arrived there with a papal invitation and made a very impressive mark on her contemporaries with very prestigious altarpiece paintings for some of the basilicas of Rome.
She was the first woman to have ever painted an altarpiece for a Roman church, in fact. In addition to Lavinia Fontana, there was another professional female woman artist there: Diana Scultori, an engraver. She had come there much earlier. She was no longer alive when Artemisia was a young girl, but her prints, her engravings were still in circulation.
What’s interesting about both Lavinia and Diana Scultori is that both of them undertook nude imagery.
CUNO: Male or female?
BARKER: Both. In the case of Diana Scultori, these were primarily reproductive engravings. So she was reproducing nude artworks made by sculptors of antiquity or painters of modern times. But Lavinia Fontana was engaged in erotic imagery. I don’t imagine that that was her signboard on the outside of her studio, but somehow Artemisia may have known that there was this woman artist when she was a child, who was making these very scantily-clad erotic nudes for some of the leading families of Rome.
CUNO: Now, you mentioned Caravaggio, and that he was a particular role model for both her father, Orazio, and Artemisia herself. Why Caravaggio? What particular features of his paintings appeal to her and to her father?
BARKER: I would say, on the basis of the kinds of paintings that Orazio, her father, and Artemisia herself were making in the first years of their contact with Caravaggio’s style, is that they were most impressed by this illusion of reality, of immediate closeness to the action in the painting.
They were also very alike in their imitation of Caravaggio’s tendency to reduce the image to its most elemental human drama. He gets rid of the elaborate scenography. There’s no need for perspective, there are hardly any accessories. It’s a close-up focus on a few human beings and their struggles.
CUNO: Now let’s back up for a minute and talk about her life and her painting career up to the point of her confrontation with Agostino Tassi in her father’s studio. What was her life like?
BARKER: Artemisia was motherless, beginning at the age of 12. Her mother had died in the course of childbirth, when her third brother was born. And that’s also about the time, I gather from the scraps of evidence we have, that she began in earnest studying art at her father’s side. And of course, both of them, at this time, were under the spell of Caravaggio. So as her father was trying to relearn how to paint in this radically new style that involved a whole different set of techniques, Artemisia was learning how to paint for the first time in this radically new style. And in some ways, she was running ahead by leaps and bounds, while her father was having to unlearn before he learned.
It must have been a lonely time for her. Later on in trial depositions, someone remarks that she had overheard Orazio mentioning how lonely his daughter was and how he was concerned about that. She had three younger brothers. Occasionally, she was under the care of a neighbor woman. But she really seems to have had a restricted life, closed in this house, with the world of her father and his painterly activities at the center of her imagination.
CUNO: Now tell us about Tassi’s confrontation with Artemisia. And by confrontation, that’s being kind, because it’s often called rape. And how unusual was it to bring Tassi to trial at the time, and the role of Artemisia’s father in that trial?
BARKER: Artemisia was raped when she was 17 years old . The question really wasn’t whether a sexual act had occurred, but whether or not she was a virgin. That became the real issue at the trial. In fact, the case was all about whether or not she had been deflowered. That was something that could be challenged legally. And unfortunately, the typical way for a defendant to defend himself against such charges was to demonstrate that the victim was promiscuous. Or even that she had a reputation for promiscuity.
So the trial involved a lot of witnesses slandering Artemisia’s reputation, simply in order to protect their friend, the defendant. And for this reason, rape trials were very rare. Nobody wanted to subject their wives, daughters, relatives to public defamation that was often a kind of theater of misogyny of the worst kind. But this was probably Artemisia and Orazio’s only recourse, because the more typical reaction in a situation like this would have been to privately press the rapist to marry his victim.
But it turned out that Agostino Tassi, when he raped Artemisia, was already married. His wife was in another place, and he was not able to take that route. In other words, Artemisia and her father were forced into this most unfortunate and difficult situation. Agostino Tassi was found guilty of raping and deflowering a virgin, so Artemisia’s testimony was believed. This led to a sentence of exile from Rome for a couple years. But it turns out later on that it wasn’t really enforced, to Artemisia’s great horror and disappointment.
CUNO: Now, one often reads about the role of Artemisia’s father in the trial, the defense of his daughter, as if that were uncommon.
BARKER: I feel that he was defending the family honor. This was a grievance not just against her, but against their status in Rome. And if his daughter hadn’t been demonstrated to be a virgin, he would have been seen as running a brothel, essentially. And horrible slander was launched against him, as well, during the trial. So it was a family enterprise to protect themselves.
CUNO: Now let’s get back to Artemisia’s paintings. Her earliest paintings were Susanna and the Elders and the Weaning Virgin, of 1611. Describe the paintings for us.
BARKER: Both paintings demonstrate that she was something of a child prodigy. They were completed when she was seventeen, eighteen; and yet she is a full-fledged master. Many of the characteristics that will be steady characteristics of her art throughout her career are already visible.
She has a command of her storytelling qualities. She admired the way Caravaggio could tell a story with great emotional power by focusing in on the human actors and that’s what we see. In Susanna, we have the story of a virtuous woman who is surprised and startled, and above all, fearful, in the presence of two men that are this weighty presence hanging over her.
She seems crushed by them in the composition. They’re fully dressed; she is naked, with her towel falling off her leg. If anything, this is a picture that dramatizes the vulnerability of a good, virtuous woman in the presence of two powerful men who are seeking to destroy her reputation if she does not give them sexual favors. It’s a horrible predicament, and we are made to identity with Susanna, who is closest to us and whose body is twisted almost toward us for protection.
Unlike other painters who dealt with this story, there’s no lovely garden, no greenery, no flowers, no cosmetics, no mirror, no trickling fountain. There is nothing to distract from the suffering and the discomfort of this poor victim. It would seem a very different kind of painting, but in fact, the weaning Madonna, of about the same time, also shares a lot of similar characteristics. It too focuses in, dispensing of all the accessory items and objects, in order to tell us an intimate human story of a woman, an adult woman this time, who’s offering protection and care and love to her male child, the baby Jesus.
It’s a curious moment in the relationship between these two, because you can see from the image that he’s well old enough to eat solid food, and it’s time for him to leave his mother’s lap and be weaned and go off into the world. And yet both of them know that this is one step towards the suffering that he will endure as an adult.
And so it’s a very painful moment for them both, and yet Artemisia has depicted it with all of the familiar signs of domestic life that would’ve been typical of Roman mothers and Roman children of her time. So she makes this great dramatic religious history one that ordinary people could identify with and understand in their own terms. She’s really seeking to help us understand who these great religious figures were and how they behaved in ways that we could perhaps imitate and emulate.
CUNO: A year later, 1612, she leaves Rome and goes to Florence, where she seeks patronage from the Medici court and others. Why did she do that, and how does one seek patronage like that?
BARKER: Well, first of all, I believe that she had been hoping to go to the Florentine court since she was a small girl, undertaking her artistic training. Her father’s family was from Tuscany. Her grandfather had made a ducal crown for the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. So she probably felt that it was part of her family’s heritage. She had an uncle there; she had many relatives in Tuscany. And yet going there without her father was quite a risky undertaking. Staying in Rome after the rape trial would’ve made it difficult to have female patrons and any kind of serious patronage from maybe the religious elite, the church elite, at the time.
The slanders were too fresh in everyone’s mind, perhaps. But in Tuscany, she could perhaps start over. And I believe that from the very beginning, her aim was to get patronage from the grand dukes. The way one did this is just as, probably, challenging as it would be today to aspire to getting a role in a Hollywood film. How does one do that without connections? Well, you need an agent, right? And she needed an agent. And these, we call them cultural brokers now, these were individuals who were in the circle of the court, and made their own careers by bringing talented artists and musicians and scientists within the patronage sphere of the heads of state. So in Artemisia’s case, she was very strategic with friendships, and also with her business that she could offer.
When she made the purchase of silks for her wardrobe, she chose specifically a silk merchant who was one of these cultural brokers, whose pastime as a musical composer and the patron of a musical camerata, gave him special entrée at the Medici court. She didn’t pay her bill to this silk merchant right away; she owed him money. And so it was in his interest to find her a patron for her art, so that she could earn the money to repay him. And he may very well have been responsible, this silk merchant, for introducing Artemisia to the grand duke’s patronage.
She also made friends with other musicians or patrons of music and this included Michelangelo Buonarroti Jr., the grandnephew of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the famous architect and sculptor and painter of the 16th-century. Buonarroti Jr. was invited by Artemisia to be godfather to a child that sadly, she miscarried. But in any case, this friendship that began as a kind of familial friendship, a very intimate one, led to Buonarroti Jr. supporting Artemisia’s artistic career, and his efforts to put her in touch with other artists and intellects in the circle of the Medici. So yeah, she was quite strategic in the network of relationships she created. And she knew what her ultimate aim was.
CUNO: Now, we described—you described for us—the characteristics of the Roman paintings. How did her artistic style change when she moved to Florence?
BARKER: She continues to tell her stories with a few human protagonists, but she amps up all of the qualities that made her art dramatic. The directional lighting that Caravaggio had introduced now becomes a very marked feature of her art. So she brings the lights down and really highlights her protagonists’ faces so we can see their emotions better. She brings us closer to her bodies, so that we begin to imagine ourselves in their near presence, so we could hear them if they were whispering, even.
She seems to be aware of what’s going on in the musical world. At this time, the beginnings of opera are beginning to bubble forth in the Florentine theater. And the development of a kind of musical solo that allows a protagonist to talk about what they’re feeling, with a single melody and a lot of force, which we call now an aria—this could explain Artemisia’s interest in giving her characters the opportunity to freeze in their action and tell us what they are feeling and experiencing.
She’s interested now, though, in also appealing to the grandeur and the luxury of her grand ducal patrons. And so her characters are dressed in elegant fabrics. Some of these fabrics are based on the clothes she owned, having spent a great deal of money on them. They hold swords and wear jewelry of the finest craftsmanship. And we see the most opulent version of Caravaggio’s painting that I think was ever dreamed up. So she takes Caravaggio’s art from the urchins of the street and she puts it into the chambers of the prince.
CUNO: It’s about this time that she enters the Accademia del Disegno. What was the Accademia like, and what did it mean for a career, to be introduced to that institution?
BARKER: We know that in earlier decades, that the guild members had opportunities to pursue their profession by taking classes in geometry and perspective, and also to benefit from drawing classes with a live model. And even on occasion, to have anatomy lessons. In the period when Artemisia was a member—she becomes a member in 1616—it’s not quite clear if any of that teaching is occurring. But there were advantages that she gained from being a member. One thing that I notice when going through the records is that by this time, they are allowing individuals from all different parts of Tuscany to join.
But they are joining under their regional designations. So she was matriculated as a Pisan, as someone from the city of Pisa, far on the other side of Tuscany. And this is because her father had been born in Pisa. And what that means is not only that she was not seen as one of the primary Florentine artists, she was a bit of an outsider, but she shared that designation with Galileo.
This meant that she had an excuse for talking to this older and very famous, by this time, scientist or mathematician, Galileo Galilei. And we know that later on, they did, in fact, have a friendship over the years. So it was an opportunity for her to network and to make friends with dilettante, or amateur members of the Accademia who belonged there as noblemen, interested in deepening their cultural and partaking in this activity I mentioned before, of being cultural brokers to the Medici, being bridges between the raw talent of the artists’ world and the court patronage that their nobility gave them access to.
CUNO: Now, she leaves Florence in 1620. And I think it’s in your book where you describe this as “under surprising circumstances.” Explain those circumstances to us.
BARKER: It turns out that Artemisia was in kind of a conflictual situation with her own father, because of the marriage contract that had been signed when she married Pierantonio Stiattesi, shortly after the conclusion of the rape trial in 1612.
That marriage contract promised her an enormous dowry that should’ve made her a wealthy woman. And yet there was one stipulation that was an issue, and that’s that the money was not given to the couple immediately. It was given in two batches, first after three years, and the rest, after the eighth year of marriage. So that’s precisely in 1620, when the rest of the dowry money was due to Artemisia. An enormous amount of money that would’ve been at least somewhere in the range of a million dollars today, in terms of buying power, and a very large sum of money that her father had to provide in cash for Artemisia to, according to the contract, spend in support of her professional investments, if she so wished.
Again, highly unusual. But the problem was, is that she and her husband had not been living together as a married couple since at least 1616. She had her own home, she was an independent legal entity, and lawsuits were being filed against her, not her husband. And even her employees looked to her as patrona, as their lady boss, rather than to her husband. So there would’ve been good basis for Orazio to refuse to pay out the rest of that dowry. She ran out of Florence to Rome and hastily sent a message to the grand duke, telling him her reason for leaving Florence.
The great mistake she made was to not ask for leave, to not ask for a congedo, in Italian, and to ignore the fact that as the protected artist of the grand duke by this time—she was really his favorite—she, in essence, served the grand duke, and she was not supposed to have left his grand duchy without his explicit permission.
So in doing so, in order to take care of family business, she really created a terrible situation for herself at the grand ducal court, and found herself in disfavor with the grand duke, and a persona non grata.
CUNO: And then she goes back to Rome, where she was early in her career. What is it like for her when she goes back to Rome?
BARKER: She goes back to Rome with her husband. And I can imagine that there was certainly still gossip about the trial. Agostino Tassi was there, her rapist. And this caught her by surprise. She thought that he would still be in exile, but he was back there working. And of course, her reputation had been somewhat sullied by the trial, even though the verdict was in her favor and should have removed all doubt about her.
But I think she’s trying in earnest, now with her husband, to hold up a façade of bourgeois normality, you know, she is anything but normal, by the standards of those times. She takes an interest in the religious life of the city at this time. She is known to have lived close to the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella shortly after going back to Rome. And this is a church where a saint, Filippo Neri, had encouraged or had practiced mysticism of a sort, and had really encouraged everyday people, especially the nobility of Rome, to get in touch with their piety and their religious fervor; to treat religion as not just simply the occupation of priests, but something that everyone should engage in strongly. And I see her taking interest in the city’s new religious trends, and maybe even trying to start over a new life.
One thing that we should keep in mind is that she’d had five pregnancies during her seven years in Florence, and four of those children perished in Florence. So when she came to Rome, she had one daughter. And I think that she began to kind of settle down and focus on, again, finding patronage.
CUNO: Now, there’s an extraordinary painting, I think, coming up in 1623 to ’25. It’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy. It has these refined silver tones of her clothes and the depiction of extreme and private passion. Tell us about that painting and what we know about its origin.
BARKER: That painting may, in fact, reflect some of her interest in these new religious movements in Rome, centered around the Oratorian church. The Magdalene is shown in a moment of ecstasy, of spiritual removal from her body, and communion with the godhead. It is an extreme challenge, I think, for her to take her artistic language at this time, which is so focused on the material reality of bodies and their presence, and to talk about something completely invisible, which is the spirit or the soul.
And particularly, how those two can be separated. So we see the Magdalene with complete optical perception. We understand every intricate fold of her fabrics. We see the light catching all the modeling of her face. And yet we feel as if this woman, who is so close to us, is completely removed from us. She is in another dimension. Artemisia has really taken up this challenge of representing this new aspiration for the pious nobility of Rome, and to treat it in Caravaggio’s language.
So this probably was done for this type of noble class or the cardinals who were supportive of the movement. In 1622, we have the canonization of Filippo Neri himself, as well as Saint Teresa of Avila, another saint who had practiced these mystical ecstasies. So this is very much a depiction of the cultural moment of her times.
CUNO: Now, it’s about the same time that she paints Lucretia, a painting showing the artist at the height of her expressive powers, depicting the ancient Roman heroine Lucretia about to plunge a silver knife into her chest after being raped. This painting was only recently rediscovered and acquired by the Getty Museum. How important do you think it is as a painting, and might there be other Artemisia paintings still to be discovered?
BARKER: Well, this Lucretia, in a lot of ways, draws its force from the same place that that Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy does. We see an individual whose spiritual life is so strong, whose sense of self is so strong that it can even separate from the body, as in the case of the Magdalene.
And in the case of Lucretia, this self wants to determine her own destiny by destroying the body that it belongs to. This Lucretia chooses to commit suicide, which is a sin for the Catholic religion. And yet this Lucretia is being held up in Artemisia’s painting as a heroine, in terms of the political history to which it belongs to, because Lucretia was raped by the son of a tyrant king, who thought he would enjoy impunity. And also who made threats to destroy the reputation of his victim if she would talk. And yet this victim had the strength to take her story to the senators, the judges of her community, and to protest that iniquity that occurred. And also, not to put it just in a personal dimension, but in a political dimension, and to challenge them to follow her courageous example in sacrificing her own body, and for them to take up arms against these tyrant Etruscan kings. And this is the birth of the Roman Republic.
So these are something typical of Artemisia’s art. She’s able to show us the strength of her heroes and heroines, especially her heroines. And what I love about this heroine is that she takes her left shoulder and moves it towards the knife. She is not going to passively destroy her body, but actively destroy her body and make herself into this spark that sets this conflagration of a desire for liberty and autonomy on the part of her whole people.
It is an extremely important painting as the work of a woman artist, representing this subject matter, at a time when the question of political liberty and dictatorship, tyranny were very, very timely, dangerous questions in the European context. She does not shirk away from asking the difficult questions. And here, she’s posing the possibility that a woman can lead the opposition and the fight for freedom and liberty.
So it’s a wonderfully compelling painting. And since the discovery of this painting, there have been several Artemisia paintings that have reappeared. And I have no doubt that we will continue to see more Artemisia paintings in the future. However, she never had a large workshop, the way Rubens did. And so her paintings remain rare and few in number. And so while I am optimistic that more will be recognized and properly attributed to her, we’re not talking about an unlimited number of paintings; we’re talking about a very small number to begin with.
CUNO: Now, it’s about this time that she meets up with the humanist and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo. What did that mean for her career?
BARKER: Cassiano dal Pozzo, is a touchstone for culture, for science, for art. Nearly all of the great artists working in the circle of the Barberini are brought into the fold of the papal family through Cassiano. He is an amateur scientist and collector, deeply intellectually curious about the world from a scientific point of view, from an artistic point of view. He encourages Artemisia, no doubt, to make contacts with some of the artists and other virtuosi, curious individuals, who were in the circle of the Barberini. At this time, she’s coming into contact with Pietro Della Valle, who had traveled all over the Middle East and done what we would consider proto-archaeological work and had studied ancient languages and really gotten involved in the study of ancient religions, as well.
Through Cassiano dal Pozzo, she’s also meeting a lot of French artists, and is embraced by Regnier, Dumonstier and Simone Vouet, who paints her portrait. She’s clearly celebrated by the artistic community. And with men like Pietro Della Valle, she raises her interest in poetry to new heights, and begins even composing some sonnets of her own. So for her, Cassiano dal Pozzo is kind of like Buonarroti had been in Florence. He’s a gatekeeper to the highest echelon of creative expression, and a place where there’s a lot of cross fertilization between different sectors of creativity—verbal, musical, scientific, and artistic.
CUNO: Now, in 1627, she goes on to Venice. From Venice, she goes to Naples, and from there to London, where her father is painting; and then back to Naples, where she dies in 1634. Gives us a sense of these, her last and late years.
BARKER: One of the most striking aspects of Artemisia’s artistic development in her later decades is her deployment of a grand-scale narrative. Some of her paintings become quite large, where you have multiple figures, all life-size. She wants her paintings to stand out on the walls of the noble palaces for which they were made. They are not going to sell for cheap. They are going to be expensive paintings.
She begins for the first time, in these later years, to follow the Venetian manner and to imitate, say, Veronese’s more operatic and scenographic settings. There is more perspective in the floors and there’s more architecture. She’s beginning to use epic language to cast her poetic retelling of stories that everyone knew very well anyway. But it’s this new epic language that gives them even greater power and princely importance.
She’s painting, at this point, for the wealthiest and most aggressive art collectors all across Europe. She has an international level of fame. When she goes to England, she’s carrying out a kind of catholic cultural mission, soft diplomacy, to carry out, a kind of pro Roman bid to have a positive presence at the English court. And while she’s there, working at the court of Charles I, she’s also coming into contact with Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, and Henrietta Maria’s mother, Maria de Medici from France, is staying there at the time. Inigo Jones, the great architect. Giovanna Garzoni, an artist that Artemisia met in Venice, is also in England at the time. And so Artemisia’s network becomes a fully international network of players who are not only making artistic statements, but political statements.
She also is in England with her father. He had gone there several decades earlier, to the court of Charles I, as his painter. And this was the first time Artemisia managed to see her father since the early 1620s, when they encountered each other when they crossed paths in Rome. So it would’ve been an emotional time for her to catch up with her father. He died within months of her arrival in London. And yet she stayed on another year.
She painted many of her greatest masterpieces in these later years, and becomes fully capable of making every element of her image count. The images have become more complex, as I’ve suggested; but nothing is simply a stock element. Every accessory contributes to the poetic casting of her story and gives a new dimension to the emotional complexity and the conundrums and the challenges which her heroes and heroines are facing.
As a professional, I think that she really held the esteem of her peers. She doesn’t seem to have ever provoked the ire or distrust of her fellow artists, they really did appreciate her. And the princes of all Europe found her incredibly charming. Her letters to her patrons, her princely patrons, show that she had chutzpah. She had a willingness to speak her own mind. If anything, a sense of self, a sense of destiny, the fact that she belonged among the greats, was a defining mark of Artemisia’s personality and she was driven to get there.
CUNO: Well, she had an extraordinary career, and we thank you Sheila for shedding a bright light on it and for your book about the artist, published by the Getty and soon to be released in our series, Illuminating Women Artists: Renaissance and Baroque. And for your introduction of the Lives of Artemisia Gentileschi, in our series on the lives of the artists. Artemisia has an enduring place at the Getty, and we thank you, Sheila, for being part of it.
BARKER: Oh, my pleasure, Jim. I really enjoyed this opportunity to speak with you about my favorite artist, and to talk about her life, as well as her art.
CUNO: This episode was produced by Zoe Goldman and Karen Fritsche, with audio production by Gideon Brower and mixing by Myke Dodge Weiskopf. Our theme music comes from the “The Dharma at Big Sur” composed by John Adams, for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003, and is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms. For photos, transcripts, and other resources, visit getty.edu/podcasts and if you have a question, or an idea for an upcoming episode, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.
JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
SHEILA BARKER: If anything, a sense of self, a sense of destiny, the fact that she belonged among t...
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824