Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian), 1638-9, oil on canvas, 39 x 29”, Royal Collection, London
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, we’ll be posting works by female artists all day. Get ready to smash a few holes in the patriarchal notion that there have been no great women artists
While her place in the mainstream world of art history has yet to be secured (though it is certainly getting better) baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is well-known to people with an interest in the feminist side of art. She is particularly infamous for her experience during the trial of Agostino Tassi, an assistant of her father’s, who raped her. To make sure she was telling the truth about the rape, she was tortured with thumbscrews during her testimony. Her rapist was convicted, but never served his prison sentence. Her experience is unfortunately disturbingly familiar to many women today go through when trying to seek legal justice against those that have perpetrated sexual violence against them; it is no wonder she has become popular in feminist circles. Many observers see her violent paintings of biblical heroines as an expression of the anger she felt towards the men that mistreated her.
But this painting is not about anger. This painting is about being an artist. Her brush is posed at the very edge of the canvas, ready to create a new world outside the boundaries. She stares not at the viewer, but intently into the void, the gears of her mind whirring into action as she contemplates her first brush stroke. She is a gifted painter, and despite the oppressive sexism she faced, she was well-regarded in her time and patronized by dukes and kings. She did not let her artistic gifts get crushed under the heels of the patriarchal society in which she lived.