Artemisia Gentileschi Slays the World

PC: The National Gallery, London | Artemisia Gentileschi, “Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” c. 1615-17

PC: The National Gallery, London | Artemisia Gentileschi, “Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” c. 1615-17

Memento Artem


Happy Women’s History Month! March is dedicated to the amazing women who’ve shaped the world. One area in which women have contributed their talents is art.

Throughout history, women have pushed against cultural and societal norms to be creative and express themselves. One woman in particular has been coming back up in conversations concerning her genius and impact on art history–Artemisia Gentileschi.

Daughter of the Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the major followers of Caravaggio in the Baroque period of the 17th century. She showed a lot of talent in painting early in her life. She was her father’s apprentice and worked at his workshop in Rome. He realized his daughter’s talents exceeded his own. So, he asked his contemporary Agostino Tassi to further her education.

However, things took a turn when Tassi raped young Gentileschi during these lessons and promised he’d marry her. He never fulfilled his promise. Later, her father took Tassi to trial for rape. This trial garnered public attention and subsequently ruined Artemisia’s reputation. Tassi was convicted, but later released by the judge.

During and following the trial, Gentileschi painted what is one of her most famous paintings, “Judith Slaying Holofernes.” The Biblical story was a popular subject in art. Caravaggio, who’d painted the story years earlier, depicted a heroin who was timid and weak with the main character in the art piece, Judith, expressing her fear and disgust as she’s beheading the sleeping Holofernes.

In contrast Gentileschi portrays Judith as having strength in how she grasps the head of Holofernes. Even with the handmaiden, Gentileschi portrays a woman who takes charge and helps her lady by sitting on the thrashing man as he is beheaded.

Gentileschi takes the story and has the women show zero trace of hesitation or disgust as they carry out their duty for their people.

After the trial, Gentileschi married a Florentine painter, moved to Florence and had a child. However, this didn’t stop her work. She worked in the Academy of Design where she received membership—a rare occurrence for women.

She was an intelligent businesswoman who travelled and garnered powerful patrons like the Grand Duke Cosimo II of the powerful Medici family and King Charles I of England.

No matter the difficulty, Gentileschi pushed against the grain and accomplished numerous progressive feats for her time period. However, she’s not alone; many brilliant women have continued to challenge the status quo in ways that have changed the course of our history forever.

Cameron Cizek is a senior studying computing.