Passion, intrigue, drama, torture and art. The life of Artemisia Gentileschi-one of the world's greatest Baroque artists-has all the chiaroscuro trappings of a romance novel.
Her father, Orazio Lomi Gentileschi, famous for interpreting Caravaggio's revolutionary painting style, trained Artemisia as a young girl in Rome. At the age of 15, she was raped by her father's co-worker, Agostino Tassi. Her father later brought suit against Tassi and a seven-month criminal trial ensued, during which Artemisia was forced to publicly recount the rape and undergo torture; metal rings were tightened around her fingers to assure she was telling the truth. Tassi was sentenced to one year in prison. Artemisia Gentileschi married Pierantonio Stiattesi in 1613 and they moved to Florence.
She remained in Florence until 1620, achieving widespread creative success under the patronage of Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici and the Grand Duchess, Cristina di Lorena, wife of Ferdinando I de' Medici. While women artists at that time were generally limited to portraiture and still-life painting, Artemisia became famous for her grand-scale works depicting biblical and mythological heroines-no frail female ever graced her canvases. Judith and her Maidservant (1614), housed in Palazzo Pitti's Palatine Gallery, is a stunning example of Artemisia's famed realism. It is one of six variations she painted on that subject. Her style was strongly influenced by Caravaggio and the use of chiaroscuro, which represented a strong contrast between light and dark.
Though Artemisia and her work were quite popular in Florence, financial and martial problems forced her to return to Rome in 1621. The remarkable sophistication in her imagery of the female figure brought Artemisia considerable artistic success during her lifetime. Nonetheless, after her death, she was relegated to obscurity for nearly 300 years before finally claiming her place as one of the most influential Italian painters in history.
The recent revival and re-evaluation of Artemisia's courageous life and works piqued the interest of The Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts. Our commitment is to recognize, and support, the contributions of women to society and to the arts-past and the present-particularly those who have been influential in the development of the arts in Florence. With our mission in mind, in 2008 The Florence Committee decided to fund the restoration of one of Artemisia's works: David and Bathsheba.
Completed in Naples in 1635, the painting had been languishing in Pitti's storage deposits for centuries. It is not known how this work became part of the collection, but documents show that it hung in the grand duke's apartment in 1662. The work depicts the scene from the Old Testament when King David first glimpses the married Bathsheba while she is bathing. His subsequent seduction of her and the events that followed were thought to be the beginning of a divine curse on the House of David.