Artemisia Gentileschi

Feminist critics often think of Gentileschi in admiration as she represented strong, independent women in a male dominated practice. Further appreciation is shown as she depicts other ‘strong women’ in her paintings, not just painting them as objects of desire. Her use of strong bold colours in oil-pastel, with female subjects is recognisable and often striking in composition.

Some would argue that ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes (c.1611)’ is her most recognisable piece. The painting depicts a particular story from ‘The Old Testament’. The story shows ‘Judith’ who seduces the Assyrian General, Holofernes, and then along with her maid-servant beheads him. The idea that she liked to portray strong women in her paintings is very much apparent here, as the two females are shown to have over-powered the male with brute force. Their ‘strong’ stance is emphasised by the brutality of the murderous act they are committing, is shown in gloriously gory detail.

In other portrayals of this story in art history (see Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio, c.1598) the woman still seems somewhat submissive even as she is shown killing a man. Their restrained and effortless composure is in stark contrast to Gentileschi’s depictions where obvious force is shown in the women’s bodies and faces.

It has been remarked that Gentileschi actually painted herself as Judith, as she beheaded her Mentor Agostini Tassi (who was tried for her rape) as Holofernes. The rape case has unfortunately come to over-shadow her career and instead of being celebrated like other Masters her name and reputation as a ‘great’ has been dragged through the mud.

Feminist or not anyone can appreciate the beauty and passion that Gentileschi created and showed within her work, and although she might not be considered a master, she is definitely a great.

(Both images from Web Gallery of Art, Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, c.1611-12)


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