January 16, 2016

Painting with the girls 16

Day 16   (350 days to go)

January 16, 2016.


Postcard watercolor, collage matted

This is Part III of Artemisia Gentileschi's life story. If you missed Part I and II scroll down to January 2, 9, 2016.

Orazio Gentileschi went to court and sued Agostino Tassi after he found out he had raped his daughter.

Amazingly, a complete file of the seven-month trial still exists and has been translated into English.

Mary D Garrard explains, “To read the trial testimony is to descend to a genuinely depressing level of sexual and moral sordidness. Even upright citizens do not look good in police court and the cast of characters involved in this incident some very seamy types indeed. Yet it is a precious document, affording a very large slice of raw seventeenth-century reality, and a few facts that can be sifted from the heap of self serving half-truths and lies.”

Artemisia was raped at age 17 by her tutor Augostino Tassi, who was hired by her Father to teach her perspective.

According to Artemisia’s testimony, it is clear that Agostino Tassi raped her and   pressured her to continually engage in sex under the pretense he loved her and would marry her. Since Agostino wouldn’t follow through with the actual marriage, Artemisia felt she had to tell her father.  As her Father discovered that Artemisia had been violated and would be “damaged goods” for someone else to marry her, he went to court to clear Artemisia’s name.

I can not imagine what an ordeal that must have been for a young woman in a misogynistic society to be exposed like that in a trial. At the time, a woman’s word was good for nothing, so Artemisia was submitted to the most humiliating proceedings that would now be considered barbaric and unlawful. She was put to the truth test and a Sybille was used to extract it. A Sybille was a contraption that was attached to her hand and her thumb was crushed in a small vise. The pressure could cause excruciating pain and even cause the loss of fingers. According to the files, a neighbor called Tuzia, who was responsible for Artemisia’s daily activities at home, and had been at in the house with her at the time, allowed Tassi to come in and have privacy with her on the day of the rape. Also, it was established during trial that Artemisia fought physically and even once stabbed Tassi with a knife.

Other notable evidence was that Tassi accused Artemisia of being a whore and brought several men to testify against her.

During the trial, it was established that Tassi was a criminal. He had been imprisioned for trying to murder his wife and having an illicit relationship with his sister-in-law.

Artemisia’s father also accused him of stealing a painting from their house.

The court records indicate that Artemisia showed sympathy to Tassi until she found out he was in fact already married, which might explain why she continuously engaged in sex after the rape. One could suppose that she might have been smitten with her teacher like any inexperienced young woman.

To finalize her humiliation during trial, she was submitted to a court examination by two midwifes who testified; that she was not a virgin and had not recently lost her virginity.

Finally, the judge decided, Artemisia’s name was to be cleared and Tassi was to be banned from Rome for 5 years. He never fulfilled this sentence.