Works by women artists in Florence museums

The neglected minority

Jane Fortune
November 30, 2006

During my research for an upcoming guide book, I have come across a total of 45 women artists represented in Florentine museums. As an art-lover, rather than art historian, I was initially surprised to find so many works by both Italian and non-Italian women present in city museums, since so few are cited in any guide books. The first woman artist spot-lighted here is very well-known, and has more works on public view than any other woman artist in Florence’s museums.ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI (1593 - 1653)

Born in Rome, Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, one of the greatest representative painters from the school of Caravaggio. An early Italian Baroque painter, she was greatly influenced by her father’s style and came to be considered one of the most accomplished painters of her time.

Since Artemisia was denied access to all the male academies of art, her father hired Agostino Tassi, a Tuscan painter, to privately tutor his daughter. During that time, Tassi raped the young artist (she was 19), promising later to marry her, which he did not. Her father reported the rape and a controver-sial seven-month trial ensued in Rome. Artemisia was subjected to terrible humiliation and mistreatment, and Tassi was sentenced to one year in prison. Artemisia’s father, to restore her honor, arranged for her to marry Pierantonio Stiattesi, a little-known artist from Florence.

The couple moved to Florence in 1613. Until 1620, Artemisia worked for the court of Cosmio II, where she enjoyed much popularity and success. She gave birth to four children while in Florence, but only one, Prudenzia, about whom little is known, reached adulthood. In 1616, Artemisia became the first woman to be accepted for membership in Florence’s Accademia del Disegno, the fine arts academy, which still thrives today. Although she was a very popular painter, financial and martial problems lead to her return to Rome in 1621. The couple separated while Artemisia was in her early thirties, and she lived as a single woman until her death in Naples in 1653.

Her works are usually quite large, and depict historical, Biblical or mythological heroines. Most of the women she portrayed were marked by violence and, supposedly, many are self portraits. Her works on public view in Florence can be seen at the following locations:CASA BUONARROTI:

Allegory of the Inclination.In 1615, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger commissioned Artemisia to paint a complete nude, paying her three times what the other painters (all male) received. The figure was later covered with a drape by a descendent of Michelangelo the Younger. The panel painting was the first work she completed in Florence and can be found on the ceiling of the Galleria.



Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620). Judith is depicted as a woman able to determine her own destiny, a heroic agent of justice. This painting is said to symbolize Artemisia’s desire for revenge against Agostino Tassi after the rape and subsequent trial. This is the painting that gave her a time-honored place in the history of art.

St. Catherine of Alexandria (1617). This image is said to represent female self-fulfillment in the male-dominated art world of her time.  



Judith and Her Maidservant (1612-1613). Hosted in the Galleria Palatina, this painting is likened to the Judith in the Uffizi and seen as another portrayal of revenge for her rape.

The Penitent Magdalen (1615 -1616). Also located in the Galleria Palatina, it is supposedly the portrait of Maria Maddalena, wife of Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, her Florentine patron.



Several books have been written about Artemisia, but Alexandra Lapierre’s Artemisia most masterfully describes Artemisia the woman and Artemisia the painter.









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