Artemisia's Moment

After being eclipsed for centuries by her father, Orazio, Artemisia Gentileschi, the boldest female painter of her time, gets her due

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as orazio entered his 60s, his success in Genoa emboldened him to market his skills to Marie de’ Medici, the queen mother of France and a member of the most prestigious family in Tuscany. It was at her request that he moved to Paris in 1624, where he executed paintings for her Palais du Luxembourg. Orazio’s connection to the queen mother paid other dividends. Not long after her daughter Henrietta Maria married Charles I of England, Orazio was recruited by the duke of Buckingham, whom he had met at the wedding, to come to the court of the English king.


The 62-year-old Orazio was installed in spacious London quarters, given generous living expenses and invited to dinners with royalty. As the only Italian painter and one of the few Catholic artists in London, he found his way into the circle of the Catholic queen Henrietta Maria. She soon had him working on the most extensive project of his career—the ceiling of her house at Greenwich—a nine-canvas representation of allegorical figures.


In 1638 or 1639, after sidestepping a four-year summons from Charles I and an entreaty from her father, Artemisia finally moved to London herself. Her attempts to secure work from powerful connections in Italy had failed, and despite the disagreeable prospect of working for a Protestant king and the strain of the trip, she needed money badly.


Details of any reunion with her father—it would have been at least 17 years since they had seen each other—are lost. In February 1639, Orazio died at age 75, after 13 years of service to the court of Charles I, who honored him with a lavish funeral.


Artemisia remained in London for two years, until assurances of work brought her back around 1641 to Naples, where she lived until her death in 1652 or ’53, producing works such as Galatea and Diana at Her Bath for Don Antonio Ruffo. When he offered her less than the agreed-on price for the Diana, Artemisia was incensed: “I think Your Most Illustrious Lordship will not suffer any loss with me,” she wrote in 1649, “and that you will find the spirit of Caesar in this soul of a woman.”



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