Artemisia Gentileschi: The Renaissance Artist Who Sued Her Rapist… And Won

The first woman to get accepted into the Florence Academy of Art during the Renaissance was almost completely forgotten in art history.

When she is mentioned, it’s usually due to a traumatic event in her past: her rape and court trial.

But Artemisia Gentileschi was a trailblazing painter very much ahead of her time, and she painted some of the most iconic portraits of women.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Early Life

Gentileschi was born in Florence in 1593.

Her father, a painter himself, recognized his daughter’s artistic talent.

He sent her to intern with one of the most famous artists in town, Agostino Tassi.

In a city that was full of talent, Gentileschi was quickly marked as a rising star. Her paintings set her apart from other artists because they tended to focus on women.

Her series of paintings on Biblical women were especially successful, and she began to become famous as one of the leading painters of the time.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Her Rape Trial

But then, in 1616, Tassi violently raped Gentileschi when she was 19.

Gentileschi’s father tried to force Tassi to marry her. After several months of negotiation, Tassi refused. Her father decided to sue him for rape and non-compliance with agreements.

The trial caused a storm in Italy.

Evidence for the interest the case caused can be found in the amount of documentation we have today.

The evidence from the trial was so well preserved that we know, for example, that every single one of Tassi’s maids was called as a witness.

All of them claimed that Gentileschi was on her period during the rape.

Gentileschi herself was called to give witness and spoke in first-person about the rape, which was very rare in those days (and to be honest, even today).

Still, most of the witnesses and speakers in the trial were men.

Unsurprisingly, Tassi’s method of defense was to blame the victim.

He claimed that Gentileschi was promiscuous, that she seduced him, and that her father sold her into prostitution for a piece of bread.

This was Tassi’s second court case after he stood trial for an incestuous relationship with his step-sister.

The court ruled in favor of Gentileschi.

Tassi was found guilty of rape and was sentenced to (only) 9 months in prison.

Her father quickly arranged a marriage for Gentileschi, but for the rest of her life, an image of a promiscuous woman stuck to her.

In the Italian public’s mind -she was already marked as tarnished.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Her Life After the Trial

Gentileschi moved to Rome, kept painting, and managed to earn a living as an artist – a rare accomplishment for women in that period.

As previously mentioned, she was the first woman to be accepted into the Florence Academy of Art during the city’s heyday as an international art center.

As the years passed, she was pushed to the sidelines and forgotten.

Her paintings are rarely mentioned, and when people talk about the Golden Age of Florence, she is seldom brought up.

When she is mentioned in the Baroque art history, it is almost always due to the rape case and trial, and not for her art.

Gentileschi deserves better.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Most Important Work & Legacy

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter, today considered one of the most accomplished painters in the history of art.

She was born in Rome in 1593, the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a well-known painter in his own right.

Artemisia showed an early talent for art, and her father gave her an intensive training in the techniques of painting.

She became his student, and the two collaborated on many paintings.

Her first major work was Susanna and the Elders (1610), a painting that caused a sensation when it was exhibited in Rome.

The subject matter, Susanna being harassed by two older men, was considered scandalous at the time, and the fact that Artemisia had painted it so realistically only added to the controversy.

Despite the scandal, Susanna and the Elders was a critical success, and it established Artemisia as a major artist.

She went on to paint a number of other important works, including Danaë (1612), and Lot and his Daughters (1614).

Artemisia Gentileschi is best known for her painting “Judith Slaying Holofernes.”

The painting depicts the Biblical story of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes.

The painting is significant not only for its dramatic and bloody subject matter, but also for its portrayal of a strong and heroic woman.

Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638-9) is another significant work.

The painting shows the artist at work, surrounded by symbols of her trade. The most important symbol is the palette and brushes, which represent her creative power.

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Gentileschi was a groundbreaking artist in her time.

She was one of the first women to achieve recognition as a professional painter, and she helped to pave the way for future generations of female artists.

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1 thought on “Artemisia Gentileschi: The Renaissance Artist Who Sued Her Rapist… And Won”

  1. I was familiar with Gentileschi’s paintings before long before I became aware of the trial of Tassi. I have always been excited and impressed by her paintings of Biblical women. Another thing to bear in mind when looking at her Susanna and the Elders works is that in ‘Daniel’ when Susanna went to trial she prevailed over the lecherous pair who were counting on her being put to death on their trumped up accusations of adultery. Instead it was they who were put to death and Susanna’s virtue vindicated. Artemisia was not so fortunate in the last matter, and unlike the scheming elders, Tassi’s conviction was annulled in 1613. The Susanna painting on the right was done when Artemisia was just 17 – an amazing accomplishment for any painter. As for the rapist blaming the victim, nowadays politcians save the accused the trouble of opening their mouths and denounce on their behalf the abused as being responsible for the crime visited upon them.

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