The National Gallery of London recently acquired a significant work by one of the foremost painters of the Italian Baroque – a rare self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654).
The Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of alexandria (1615-17) is an important acquisition both in its subject matter and standing. Depicting the artist in the guise of Saint Catherine, it is the first work by Artemisia Gentileschi to enter the gallery and highlights a move towards addressing the underrepresentation of women artists in the national collection.
Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia trained under her father Orazio Gentileschi and soon demonstrated an aptitude for easel painting. Over the course of her career, she worked in Rome, Florence, Venice and finally Naples. In Florence, she became the first woman artist to be accepted into the Accademia del Disegno in 1616, granting her unprecedented autonomy and allowing her to travel independently, sign her own contracts and purchase pigments without resorting to permission from a male family member. It is during this Florentine period that she painted her Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine. The versatility of her subject matter, ranging across still life, portraits and history painting was ambitious and exceptional for a woman of her time, though the rape she suffered at age 17 and subsequent infamous trial has overwhelmingly influenced the reception of her work.
The 4th-century martyr Saint Catherine was sentenced to death by the Emperor Maxentius. Bound to a wheel studded with spikes, divine intervention prevented her torture by causing the wheel to break. Throughout depictions of Saint Catherine in art, she is represented with the broken wheel as her attribute. Painting her own features into the image of the saint defiant in the face of death, Gentileschi assimilates the role of a strong female heroine.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria is currently undergoing conservation and is expected to go on display at the National Gallery in early 2019.
As reported in The Guardian here.
Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi family.” Grove Art Online. http:////www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000031374.
Pomeroy, Jordana ed. Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Italy: Skira, 2007.
Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about 1615-17, oil on canvas, 71.5 × 71 cm, National Gallery London.