Artemisia Gentileschi is an amazing historical figure. A survivor who endured torture and humiliation when she tried to convict the man who raped her, she is famous for her beautifully rendered paintings of defiant women enacting violence upon men. Above are Judith Slaying Holofernes, Judith and Maidservant, and Jael and Sisera. It is rumored that Judith Beheading Holofernes is a self-portrait, in which Judith was painted in Gentileschi’s likeness and Holofernes was modeled after her rapist. hate her paintings evoke. You can see these paintings were a way for her to deal with the anger and pain she must have felt, and they always leave me in awe.
This is only partially true. The ‘rumors’ that Artemesia’s paintings are self portraits are largely a modern one. It’s true to some extent- she knew so much about the female form because she was a woman herself. Female heroines were actually a popular subject in Baroque southern Europe paintings, so her depictions of them weren’t out of the ordinary.
HOWEVER. The idea that Judith is somehow a representation of Artemesia’s anger towards being raped is not entirely true. People now interpret her rape through a 21st century lens. Artemesia wasn’t “tortured” because of it. The reason why she and her father went on to convict her rapist was not because of the rape itself, but because he had promised to marry her (and went on to have a relationship with her after the rape), and didn’t. I’m not saying that she wasn’t traumatized because of it; she was raped in her studio while trying to paint while he said “Why so much painting?” It was obviously the act of a man attempting to belittle, control, and intimidate her (like all rapes are).
Saying that the reason why Artemesia was such a powerful painter was due to her rape places her rape above her inherent skill, like she couldn’t have done it without having been assaulted. The rape occurred when she was 14, and she spent her entire life as a professional painter. To dull her entire professional career down to this one incident isn’t cool. This idea is harmful and only gives more steam to the rape avenger trope that is all too common in historical AND modern women’s stories.
Basically what I’m saying is: Artemesia was a bad bitch. Her rape gets misinterpreted. People blame her subject matter on her trauma based on their own ideas of rape and gender in the 21st century. It takes the power back away from her again, and returns it to her rapist.
[I spent a lot of time writing and lecturing people about this in college, can you tell?]
I HAVE BEEN SCHOOLED AND IT WAS AMAZING.
Goddamn, that Art History is some sexy shit.