She was born in Rome on July 8, 1593, in a house on Via Repetta, the daughter of the famous artist, Orazia Gentileschi. The father was a close friend of Caravaggio and became an imitator of his style as well. Her mother, Prudenzia Montone, died prematurely when Artemisia was still a child. Orazio took care of her and the girl spent all the time with him in the workshop – she watched her father mixing colors, bringing brushes and canvases, and painting.
This most likely influenced the development of her great talent. Gentileschi lived in the so-called Artists’ Quarter. It stretched from Piazza di Spagna to Via Margutta, where the entire artistic Bohemia of Rome was concentrated at that time, which passed through the workshop and the house. As a child, Artemisia visited the Caravaggio studio, which had a great influence on her. Together with her father and Caravag, she participated in the execution of Father Patrice Sensi and her family on September 11, 1599. The Papal provisions were an opportunity for artists to observe suffering and death live, which they later used to paint scenes of martyrdom of saints. For this reason, they can sit in the front rows, just below the scaffold, to see every detail accurately, and sometimes make drawings.
Artemisia’s talent was revealed when one day my father had to suddenly leave. He left an unfinished painting he was working on in his studio. He ordered his daughter not to touch anything until he returned. Artemisia did not keep her word and finished the work. When her father returned, she expected him to scream and hit her, but Orazio praised her, being surprised by her extraordinary abilities. Since then, he has given her regular lessons in drawing and painting techniques. The girl, brought up only by her father in the workshop, was illiterate, rower, not knowing good manners, not caring for herself. The family name of Artemisi was Lomi, but since her brother was also studying to be a painter and was already taking his first steps in this profession, she took the pseudonym after her father – Gentilesky. She painted some of his portraits with her father and also made him a model. She was very beautiful, plump, feminine. She was delighted with her long, coppery curls. Orazio Gentileschi became jealous of her. He was afraid of a potential suitor, but also of her talent, which apparently surpassed him. He limited the girl’s going out of the house, and in his absence, Tuzia’s neighbor, the tenant on the second floor, took care of her, who was the only friend of the orphan Artemis and sometimes gave her drawings.
Artemisia Gentileschi was, of course, not the first artist in art history. Although for many centuries, until the nineteenth century, arts and crafts were the domain of males, the Roman painter had predecessors and contemporaries, perhaps more famous in her era than they were: Plotella Indigo, Lucrena Feti, Sofonsipa Anguisola, and Lavinia Fontana (the The first painter of the court (papal), Vidi Galizia. Artemisia’s fame survived, however, becoming as immortal as Caravaggio’s.
After Artemisia Gentileschi had learned enough in her father’s workshop, Orazio decided in 1611 that she should continue further studies. The father put a lot of energy into promoting his daughter, including a letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Cristina Lorraine, asking for her to receive a more complete education. After rejecting the Academy of Painting, according to some sources, Orazio turned to his colleague Agostino Tassi, a professor of perspective in the trompe-l’oeil technique, who had recently arrived in Rome. Work with him began in the construction of a loggia in the hall of the Muses Casino, in the Rospigliosi Palace in Rome. Tassi, a bold professional in his field, was a heartless adventurer with a more than turbulent past (his three sisters were whores, he himself committed incest with his sister-in-law, and was tried for her; two brothers are criminals, one hanged and the other exiled for being the father of sodomy). However, all this was overlooked due to his special abilities. He himself pretended to be single.
Tassi several times tried to involve Artemisia in an affair. His promotions, however, were rejected. One day, while Orazio was away, he raped a young painter in her family’s home in Via della Croce, near Piazza di Spagna. He succeeded thanks to the bounty of the catering officer of the Apostolic Chamber, named Cosimo Corley, and his neighbor, Tozia, who bribed him. Corley also courted the beautiful painter, repeatedly undermining her reputation in front of others, spreading that he was her real father.
The brutal rape shocked the 17-year-old and affected her personal life and work. Besides, the loss of virginity in those days was associated with the loss of family honor, especially as it happened in the family home. This spot can only be washed off through a repair marriage. Tassi had promised to marry Artemisia so as not to disgrace her, but rather promised to work together.
It is uncertain whether Artemisia hid the rape from her father, or whether he, having learned about it, persuaded his daughter to accept the offer, to be kind to his colleague and to continue to please his whims. Rape is not seen as harm to humans. Public morals, however, were broken by lewd obscenities. But since the offender wanted to compensate the victim, it was said that nothing major happened …
Everything continued until the girl found out that Tassi is already married and even hired a killer to kill his wife. Meanwhile, he committed incest with his sister-in-law. In this case, there can be no question of a reconciliatory marriage. Only then, after a few months of an affair, Orazio Gentileschi filed a complaint with Pope Paul V, demanding the punishment of his colleague, who had treacherously desecrated his daughter.
According to some art historians, one of the first Artemisia paintings “Susanna and the Old Men” from the Pommersfelden group was created under the influence of these events, but the artist dates it later to 1610. The biblical nude Susanna, who clearly rejects persistent men who are not old, but They plan something with complicity, similar to Artemisia itself. Tassi is presented as a black-haired man. Artemisia has addressed the topic of Susanna and the elderly several times in her work.
The trial, which was one of the most famous of the seventeenth century, began in March 1612 and lasted seven months. The hearings were conducted by the Papal Prosecutor Francesco Bulgariello and Porzio Cameraarlo. Public opinion was not in Artemisi’s favour. Reason: Because the whole story was kept silent for too long before Gentileschi filed the complaint, his daughter was treated with suspicion, believing the intercourse was consent, and later accused the man of rape. The subject of further controversy was a copy of the painting “Judith Beheading Holofernes” preserved today in Hartford dated 1610-1612, in which Tassi and Cosimo Corley are mysteriously exposed.
Artemisia testified under oath that on May 6, 1611, she was sexually assaulted by Tassi. At the request of the judge, the midwives of Diambra and Katerina visited the painter to make sure that she was still a virgin, and if not, for how long she had lost her virtue. The women stated that he “was stripped of his membrane and doesn’t look fresh”, drowning the girl. Agostino Tassi was interrogated several times in Corte Savella prison where he was imprisoned. At each interrogation, he denied physical intercourse with his student. He portrayed her as an insatiable woman, “on an equal footing with her mother” (which he did not know because Artemisia had been orphaned in his childhood before coming to Rome). He was trying to get a prostitute out of her, who had been hanging out with several men for a long time. Orazi also accused Orazi of owing him money and that his daughter’s alleged rape was in retaliation for that account.
Six witnesses testified in Tassi’s favour, spoiling the teenage painter’s reputation and making her an eccentric woman who is dedicated to all. Since she was naked in front of her father, she was also accused of incest with him. Tozio’s girlfriend, who was twice interrogated and held in the Tor di Nona prison, initially testified falsely that Artemisia had had previous relations with men, though she was not sure of this. Several times I saw Agostino alone in a room with Artimisia, who was naked in bed, and dressed (…). I tried to make her act differently and she said to me, ‘What do you want!’ She said. Testimonies from the trial were preserved in the Apostolic Camera Files preserved in the Vatican Archives.
At the end of May 14, 1612, there was a judicial confrontation between Tassim and Artemisia. The painter was interrogated in his presence and subjected to the torture of the fortune-teller, which included pulling a rope between her fingers and pulling it with a pulley. It was she who had to prove that she had been raped and stripped of her virginity, and the value of her testimony was only confirmed through torture. Fortunately, the torture did not lead to disability.
Tassi denied every word of Artemis. He claimed to have learned that she had lost her virginity to Pasquino da Fiorenza (a painter who had died and could not be called as a witness). In response, Artemisia showed Tassi and the judges the ring, claiming it was a gift from him and a promise of marriage, pointing to her fingers injured by torture, and said, “This is the betrothal you have made to me!”
The verdict was handed down on November 27, 1612. The court ratified the Gentileschi family’s witnesses. Agostino Tassi was found guilty of emptying Artemisie Lomi Gentileschi, corrupting witnesses, and defaming Orazi Gentileschi. Judge Girolamo Felice gave him a choice: five years of forced labor or exile from Rome. Tassi chose exile, but did not leave the Eternal City, protected by his powerful patrons who commissioned him to decorate the palaces.
Instead, Artemisia was forced to leave, whose reputation was completely tarnished. After the verdict and the scandal aroused by the trial, Orazio Gentileschi arranged for his daughter a reconciliatory marriage to regain her lost dignity. Her husband was the Florentine painter Pierantonio Statisi (perhaps a relative of Giovan Battista, who testified against Tassi in defense of the painter). Artemisia married him on November 29, 1612, in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, two days after the court ruling. Then she left Rome for good.
She became an established artist and made a living from art wherever she was: in Florence, Venice, Naples. In 1638, Artemisia joined her father, who was a court painter at King Charles I of England, and included the king’s famous “Self-Portrait” collection, on which she immortalized herself as an icon of painting. After the trial and the accompanying scandal, she returned to the name Lomi. However, in the history of art, Artemis Gentileschi remained forever.
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