Artemisia Gentileschi

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Increasingly, Artemisia is celebrated less for her handling of private trauma than for her adept management of her public persona. Throughout her career, she demonstrated a sophisticated comprehension of the way her unusual status as a woman added to the value of her paintings. On a formal level, her representation of herself in the guise of different characters and genders prefigures such postmodern artists as Cindy Sherman. Unlike Sherman, however, Artemisia had few female peers. She was not the only woman working as an artist during the early seventeenth century: a slightly older contemporary was the northern-Italian portraitist Fede Galizia, born in 1578, whose father, like Artemisia’s, was also a painter. But Artemisia must often have felt singular. In a series of letters written to one of her most important patrons, the collector Antonio Ruffo, she wittily referred to her gender: “A woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen,” and, regarding a work in progress, “I will show Your Illustrious Lordship what a woman can do.” In 2001, the scholar Elizabeth Cropper wrote, “We will never understand Artemisia Gentileschi as a painter if we cannot accept that she was not supposed to be a painter at all, and that her own sense of herself — not to mention others’ views of her — as an independent woman, as a marvel, a stupor mundi, as worthy of immortal fame and historical celebration, was entirely justified.” On art-adjacent blogs, Artemisia’s strength and occasionally obnoxious self-assurance are held forth as her most essential qualities.

A Fuller Picture of Artemisia Gentileschi, Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker

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