Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the greatest painters of the Baroque era; she was the first female painter to receive recognition in a male dominated century of great artists. Artemisia was a talented and rare artist whose work was well ahead of her time, she managed to make a strong impact with her astounding work despite facing strong dominance from her male counterparts. A feminist by nature, it is no surprise that most of her work exhibited strong warrior-like females as the main subject. So spellbinding was her work and out-there personality that she has inspired numerous books, plays and movie productions.
Artemisia Gentileschi was born on July 8, 1593 in Rome, Italy, to a painter father. She was exposed to the arts from an early age and showed a deep understanding of it well beyond her young years. From a young age on-wards Artemisia was heavily inspired by the works of Caravaggio, her world quickly became drawings, sketches and paints. What is rare about Artemisia was her ability to strive above the difficult times she faced when women painters were not accepted as respectable members of the artist gentry. Artemisia, no doubt miffed, retaliated by showing her powerful works which were heavily based on depictions of female empowerment. She was the first woman to become a member of the prestigious Accademia di Artel del Disengo in Florence – a symbolic gesture showing how much the world came to respect and admire her work. Only 34 of her paintings survived, out of the many she painted which can be due to the fact that many felt threatened by her.
She was a threat also because she rivaled many of the greats with her astonishing paintings on landscapes and religious aspects. It seemed like whatever the male artists did, Artemisia only did better. Some of her bad experiences have translated on to her work, the lack of respect she had to fight against initially as a female painter and a traumatic childhood memory of being raped are memories which have caused Artemisia to turn in brilliant works. The brilliant Judith Slaying Holofernes as an answer to her rape, painted in bold colors the object which stands out in the painting is the splash of blood in a projectile motion. Artemisia picked this particular explosive climax for the painting; the result is a terrifying beautiful piece. There is tension in the painting and a lot of emotion, the naturalism of the painting is an art Artemisia learned from Caravaggio. The use of light and dark colors gives the painting its terrifying quality – it is loaded in meaning and emotion and shocking at the same time. Artemisia is in every sense of its work a female icon, someone who faced adversity and only rose above it by showcasing her masterpieces. In very rare paintings of Artemisia, the viewer can find a sense of innocence and calm as in the Sleeping Venus. One of the very few semi-nude pieces Artemisia did, the painting features a semi clad Venus sleeping in all her feminine glory with an angel watching over her. This painting only added to Artemisia’s growing versatility as an artist. This depth of versatility is also evident in her painting Mary Magdalene, some art critics believe at times Artemisia chose strong female characters in response to the scorn she faced in the 16th century as a female painter. Artemisia’s paintings remain a toast of the art world even now and her name is used by many feminists is the prime example of a woman persevering in a male dominated society.