Assault and Trial.
A collaborator of Orazio, Agostino Tassi, visited Orazio’s workshop. Employed to teach Artemisia perspective, when they were alone he raped her. At the time an unmarried woman who was not a virgin was deemed unacceptable, this left the seventeen-year-old Artemisia with few options. She began a sexual relationship with Tassi hoping that an offer of marriage would follow therefore keeping her reputation intact.
refused to marry Artemisia her father Orazio reported the crime to the
authorities. What followed was a damming insight into of the dreadful treatment
of women at the time.
The trial lasted seven months during which Artemisia was subjected
to a public gynaecological examination to prove that she was no longer a
virgin. A crime was only deemed to have been committed if Tassi had taken her
virginity, had she not been a virgin at the time of the assault no criminal
proceedings would have followed.
To verify her evidence the unfortunate
Artemisia was tortured by the application of thumbscrews eventually she
screamed out “it is true it is true” and her story was believed. Tassi’s
punishment was to be exiled from Rome, a punishment that was never enforced.
The trial was well documented and it seems that Gentileschi was forced to give
a graphic account of the rape, the ordeal made her something of a celebrity in
Artemisia Gentileschi in Florence.
After the scandal of the trial,
Orazio moved quickly to find a suitable husband for Artemisia. Barely a month
after the trial she married Pierantonio Stiattesi. In 1612 the couple moved to Florence. Artemisia enjoyed artistic success
in Florence becoming a court painter to the powerful Cosimo II de’ Medici,
Grand Duke of Tuscany she was also accepted into the Academy of the Arts and
confinement of her father’s house, she was now exposed to a wider range of
artistic influences. During the eight years that she spent in Florence, she
gave birth to five children sadly only one daughter Prudentia survived until
this Florentine period, Artemisia completed one of her most famous and
accomplished works, Judith Slaying
Holofernes. Artemisia also began an affair with a wealthy Florentine nobleman Francesco Maria Maringhi. It would seem
that her husband knew about the affair but tolerated it because of Maringhi’s
financial assistance to the couple who had amassed a certain amount of debt. By
1620 the couple had relocated to Rome.
Rome, Venice, Naples and England.
Gentileschi's period in Rome was very successful, she was
able to meet and collaborate with other artists. Her unusual status as a female
artist coupled with her incredible artistic talent attracted many of the
important patrons that resided in the city. As a member of the Academy,
Artemisia was now able to buy paints and equipment without the authority of her
husband and by 1623 he does not feature in any surviving documents.
By 1627 Artemisia had moved to Venice where she was to remain
for three years. After spending time in Naples, where her work was already
known and on the invitation of Charles I of England she joined her father
Orazio in London. It was here that she painted her famous, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting. Orazio who had been given a commission to decorate the
ceiling of the house of Queen Henrietta Maria in Greenwich, titled An Allegory of Peace and the Arts, died in London in 1639. By 1642
Artemisia had left London, she settled in Naples where she set up her studio.
The date of her death is not known or documented but 1654 or later is a
Because of the notoriety surrounding the rape and subsequent
trial of Artemisia Gentileschi it has been too easy to forget about her
wonderful talent as an artist. Had Artemisia been a man she would have been
regarded as one of the greatest masters of her age. Until recently the few successful
renaissance women painters have been largely overlooked or merely given the
briefest of mentions thankfully this has now changed. Even so, Artemisia’s
battle to succeed despite the traumas that she endured marks her as a truly
outstanding historical figure. It is pleasing to see her receiving the praise
that she deserves despite her battles with the conventions of her time.
all her exceptional paintings have left us with a body of work which is now
enjoyed worldwide, I have the deepest admiration for this brave, heroic woman.