Caroline's Reviews > The Passion of Artemisia

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland
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Mar 06, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in March, 2011

A fine historical fiction following the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman in 1600s Italy to be accepted to the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in Rome. Her works, of which her series of the Judith story is the most famous, portray strong females with attention to their natural form, rather than the more commonly idealized version of the female form by male painters of the time.

Her life as a painter was almost destroyed when she stood a public and humiliating court trial after her father accused her painting teacher of raping her. She was subjected to a public gynecological examination and tortured with thumbscrews during her interrogation. The belief at the time, was that, if a person could tell the same story under torture, then it must be true. She bore the physical scars of the thumbscrews for the rest of her life on her hands.

To escape from the jeers and slurs in Rome slung at her, her father arranged her marriage to a Florentine artist and she left Rome. While being a wife and mother, her artistic career started to take flight in Florence, where she gained the protection of the Granduke Cosimo de Medici. She became friends with Galileo, and she was favored by Michaelangelo Buonarroti the younger, (nephew of the great Michaelangelo).

But an artist's survival depends on patrons who commission works from them, and that meant sometimes that the artist had to move to new cities to find new commissions. Artemisia took her family with her as she moved from Florence to Rome, Venice, Naples and briefly England.

The fictitious take on Artemisia's life, while changing some of her conditions and certainly the make up of her family as a child, and her family after marriage, doesn't detract from showcasing a woman who lived for painting, a woman who didn't allow her past to turn her into a meek and apologetic woman, a woman curious about the world and a woman who sought to make those who look at her works think of the people in them, as opposed to looking at them as flat figures. In a way, I'd say she sought to challenge their opinions of familiar subjects.
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