According to various press reports, London’s National Gallery is planning a “major monographic exhibition” focussing on Artemisia Gentileschi, who is described by The Art Newspaper as “arguably Europe’s greatest female Old Master.”

Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia was the progeny of the Tuscan artist, Orazio Gentileschi and Prudenzia Montoni. Furthermore, her paternal grandfather and uncle were the Pisan painters, Baccio and Aurelio Lomi. 

Despite being raped and brutalised during her early career,  Artemisia persevered with her chosen vocation and went on to become a celebrated artist in her own right. The only female follower of Caravaggio, she is also credited with being the first woman to be accepted into Florentine Accademia delle Arti del Disegno. Throughout her career, she benefitted from associations with the Grand Ducal court of Cosimo II de’ Medici, her acquaintance with the polymath, Galileo Galilei and formed connections with the scholar, humanist and art connoisseur, Cassiano del Pozzo (secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini). 

By 1638, Artemisia had made her way to England, possibly at the insistence of Charles I, who, despite proving to be a divisive and calamitous ruler, was an extraordinary art collector and patron. Alternatively, her artistic assistance could have been required by her ailing father, Orazio, who was court painter to the king and involved in the fresco decoration of the Queen’s House in Greenwich.  

By this point in her career, Artemisia had already long been maestra of her own bottega, having set up her own successful workshop in Naples in 1630.  And it is in this city (in around 1456) that she died, possibly falling victim to a devastating plague that decimated the city and its artistic community.

It is thought that following the National Gallery’s acquisition of Artemisia’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the exhibition, which will open in April 2020, will showcase more than thirty of the artist’s works and facilitate an understanding of the ‘real Artemisia.’

Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Siena, 1615 – 1617, oil on canvas, 71.4 × 69 cm, National Gallery London. Creative Commons.

References: Jesse M. Locker, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015.

Mary D Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1989. 

Further Reading: Martin Bailey with additional reporting by Hannah McGivern, “London’s National Gallery plans major Artemisia Gentileschi show in 2020″. In The Art Newspaper, 19 December, 2018. 

Robert Dex, “National Gallery’s work by women artists to double with Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition”, Evening Standard, 19 December, 2018. 

Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson.

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