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Week 8: Second Generation Caravaggists: Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654)

March 21, 2011













Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi 1619-1620.

Oil on canvas.

For Cosimo II de’ Medici, now in Uffizi, Florence.

Although frequently associated with Caravaggio’s Judith, Artemsia Gentileschi’s version of this gruesome slaying is not believed to have been directly influenced by the master.  Artemesia was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a Caravaggist.  It is more likely that she was influenced by her father’s color and tenebrism in depicting this popular scene.

This painting is believed to be a feminist reaction to a traumatic experience in young Artemisia’s life.  Agostino Tassi, an artist in Orazio’s studio, raped Artemisia.  The vicious brutality with which Judith decapitated Holofernes could be visual revenge for what happened to the painter.  Whether this is true or not, Artemisia exemplifies the Baroque emphasis on naturalism and verisimilitude in brutal violence.

Other meanings can be read in this painting.  Although it is a biblical narrative, the characters in this scene could be representative of Christ and his crucifixion.  Judith’s sword, handle pointed upward, resembles a cross.  The bloody white cloth is like the shroud that Christ wore or even wiped his face in during his journey to the cross.  Holofernes’s bed could perhaps be the tomb or the slab of rock in front of the tomb.

Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 16 Mar. 2011 <;.












Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi 1630 or 1638-1639.

Oil on canvas.

Royal Collection, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi not only chose to represent herself as a respectable artist in the act of painting, but also composed this piece as an allegory of painting itself.

The paintbrush and palette in Artemisia’s hands are the only things that give this scene away as an artist at work.  The viewer cannot see what she is painting.  Artemisia is presented three-quarter length, not quite full-legnth which is reserved for images of nobility.  However, the gold chain around her neck, the mask medallion on it, and her finely woven silk garment reveal her as a well-to-do gentlewoman.

Not only are we witnessing Artemisia in the act of painting, but we are also witnesses to her inspiration.  Light pours in from the top left and only illuminates her face – her head, her mind – not her hands.  This shows her talent as a painter comes from intellect.  Her hair is also in disarray, a sign of a mind at work.

This piece is impressive and striking because it shows a woman represented in ways that typically only men were shown.

Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 16 Mar. 2011 <;.

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