Painting With The Girls 23
January 23, 2016
Day 23, (343 days to go).
This is Part IV on Artemisia Gentileschi's life history. If you missed the other two parts, scroll down to Day 2, 9 and 16.
Art historians have debated over how to look at Artemisia’s work.
Were Artemisia’s powerful females in her paintings a reflection of her rape? Was Artemisia ahead of her time, being one of the rare females fighting against a misogynistic world?
It seems to me that if the dates on her paintings are correct, Artemisia’s first painting Susana and the Elders already represents some of her feelings toward men before her rape. In this painting, one can feel the contempt the young woman seems to have toward male authority. To me she is saying “Leave me alone. Don’t touch me!”
She lived in a time when women were not even considered complete human beings. Man saw women as male who were not whole.
The writer Mary D. Garrard wrote a chapter on Artemisia’s life at the time, where she includes a whole chapter on historical feminism and female iconography of the period. She discussed how women at that time were classified as having only seven different character attributions: beautiful, chaste, magnanimous, unchaste, wicked, warlike and virtuous. To me, that seems rooted in cruelty, and manipulation and misogyny.
If Artemisia was able to just think and analyze her surroundings, she must have concluded from early on that she lived in a world where women needed to be treated better. She would have wanted her work to reflect the potential strength of women. I want to believe Artemisia would have painted just the same if she had not been raped. Nevertheless, I want to believe that the rape confirmed everything Artemisia thought already about the cruel male world of 400 hundred years ago.
Mary D. Garrard wisely wrote that the painting Susana and the Elders might have been painted right after the rape or during the period when Agostino Tassi was pursuing her so aggressively. “What the painting gives us then is a reflection, not of the rape itself, but rather of how one young woman felt about her own sexual vulnerability in the year 1611.”
After the trial, there was only one way for Artemisia to look proper in that male dominated society: Artemisia’s father arranged for her to be married toPierantonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi, a painter himself.