Milan, Palazzo Reale
from 22 September 2011 until 29 January 2012
Visiting hours: Mondays 2:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday-Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays & Saturdays 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Tickets: full admission €9.00; reduced rate €7.50
Milan, Palazzo Reale
In Naples during the year 1649, Artemisia Gentileschi led a renowned workshop made up of exceptionally talented young artists, she had followers who painted in the Artemisia-style and could boast of admirers/clients from “all the greatest powers in Europe”. Despite all of this, the fifty-six-year-old “pittora” (woman painter) often had to haggle over the price of her paintings since she considered they were being reduced owing to her gender. The certainty that her talent deserved special treatment is evident in the correspondence she upheld with Don Antonio Ruffo, her mentor and Neapolitan client, between January 1649 and January 1651. “You feel sorry for me because a woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen”, she wrote about her “Galatea” as she tried to obtain a higher price. Since she was a very young girl, the excellent painter had to struggle to affirm her natural artistic talent; quite a few were the tribulations she suffered and the vicissitudes she experienced. Following in the family tradition, like the most part of female painters in ancient times, Artemisia’s beginnings took place in her father Orazio’s workshop (who was one of the most esteemed artists of his times) where he introduced her not only to anatomical design and the use of colour, but also to Caravaggio’s dramatic realism.
Raised in the splendid pomp of Rome during the times of Pope Paul V, the adolescent painter (who was probably introduced as a boy) gained her experience by following her teacher/parent into the luxurious ante-chambers of cardinals and climbing onto the scaffolds of the most prestigious worksites. In 1611, when she was eighteen years of age, she already had at least three years of experience in the artistic trade. But that same year Artemisia’s life was devastated. She was raped by Agostino Tassi, her father’s friend and colleague; the young artist rose to the stage of a public trial that was one of the most popular causes célèbres of that period. In addition to a reputation as a dissolute woman that would have accompanied her for the rest of her life, the terrible event provided Artemisia with an unwanted husband in the person of the elderly Florence-born Pierantonio Stiattesi; together they moved to Florence at the beginning of 1613. Here she came in touch with the lively artistic and intellectual life of the Grand Duke’s court; she was surrounded by the attention and commissions of illustrious intellectuals, just like Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger and Galileo Galilei, and by the friendship of her very renowned colleague Cristofano Allori. All of this helped the young artist in forming her own artistic language that was singularly chameleon-like, capable of observing and elaborating the artistic experiences of the great painters of her time and suiting them to her own inclinations. While it is in fact true that the fundamental characteristics of this very original and dramatic expressiveness within her paintings was soon established, it is also true that (without substantial stylistic continuity solutions) her language evolved for decades in direct contact with the spirit of the times, beginning with Caravaggio and her father Orazio, then with Rubens, Van Dyck, Cigoli, Allori, all the way to Vouet, Stanzione and the later works of Cavallino.
At the beginning of 1616, “Artemisia pitturessa” (the woman painter) belonged to the ranks of Cosimo II’s courtly painters and that same year, with the support of Allori, she was the only woman to be admitted to the Accademia del Disegno art academy in Florence. Her encounter with the gentleman Francesco Maria Maringhi, her contemporary, marked a new turn in the life and art of Artemisia. Inflamed by her requited passion for Maringhi (which would have lasted all her life, overcoming social constraints and conveniences), Artemisia’s painting was enriched with an explosive kind of sensuality that translated into a new and precious language, a narrative and theatrical style that would have led her to European renown. Burdened by debts and exhausted by four pregnancies, oppressed by a poorly paid contract with the sickly Grand Duke and tired of the gossip that surrounded her, in 1620 Artemisia and her husband suddenly left Florence and took up shelter in Rome. The return to the Eternal City marked the second stage of her exceptional international fortune. Her long experience in Florence and her “blessed love” had prepared her to give her best in painting; in the matter of a year, Artemisia (also thanks to her friend and patron Cassiano del Pozzo) won over the florid art market in Rome. And while her palette became more and more luxurious, shining with bright golden colours, enriched by opulent red lacquers and precious blue lapis lazuli, her fearless biblical heroines made way to the most famous lovers in history who were the best ambassadors of her European fame. Artemisia was celebrated all over and she travelled extensively to satisfy her aristocratic clients, from Venice (making a name for herself as the artist of flowers and still-life paintings), to Genoa, then again to Rome and Naples, to London (in 1638, invited by her father who had been working in the court of King Charles I since 1626) and ultimately on to Naples.
But fame and success were fleeting. Continuously pressed by her debts, during the last days of her life she also came face to face with poverty and was forced to sell off her works. Following her death (most likely due to the plague) in 1656, Artemisia was soon forgotten as a painter while her memory survived only as a legendary figure. The merit goes to Roberto Longhi for having rediscovered Artemisia’s artistic stance, who wrote in a research paper dated 1916 named “Gentileschi padre e figlia” (Gentileschi father and daughter) that Artemisia was "the only woman in Italy who ever knew about painting, coloring, doughing and other fundamentals". In celebration of Artemisia’s talent and rendering her the role of outstanding figure in 17th century art, an exhibition has been set up in Palazzo Reale in Milan. The spectacular staging created by Emma Dante presents about sixty works of art, including very famous masterpieces, new attributions and paintings that have never been displayed before, on loan from leading museums such as the Uffizi to Capodimonte, from the Prado Museum in Madrid to the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
The exhibition begins to unfold from the family environment where Artemisia trained to become an artist (on show, works by her father Orazio and by her uncle Aurelio Lomi), then on to her early Roman works including the unprecedented “Madonna and Child” and the canvasses from her Florentine debut at the court of Cristina, together with other works commissioned by the Grand Duke such as the two versions of “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (masterful rendition of Caravaggio’s works in the Florentine tradition of painting light) and “Allegory of the Inclination” for Casa Buonarroti. A gallery of her sensual depictions of Lucretia, Cleopatra, Danae and the indomitable figures from ancient history beginning with Yael and Bathsheba, all the way to the gentle Magdalenes. Artemisia identified herself in all of these heroines and they caused quite a stir with collectors. She upheld a dialogue with the portraits by her admirers, like the one by Simon Vouet who portrayed the painter holding a palette and paintbrushes, bearing testimony to her emotional attractiveness. Then an array of portraits and self-portraits by the artist, together with the countenances of aristocrats and clients who confirmed her talent as a portrait painter. The showcase comes to a close with her Neapolitan production, where the two great canvasses painted for the altars inside the Pozzuoli Cathedral stand out (which have been restored for the exhibition), and “The Samaritan Woman at the Well” which has never been displayed beforehand.
While the sequence of paintings is an impressive one, the selection of impassioned and unprecedented love letters signed by Artemisia and addressed to Francesco Maringhi also attract a lot of attention. They have been discovered inside the Florentine archives of the Frescobaldi family and describe the strong and sometimes harsh personality, always faithful and passionate, the brilliant intelligence and the great ambitions of this heroine from the Baroque.
- Il Simbolismo in Italia
- Virgilio. Volti e Immagini del Poeta
- Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli nella Firenze del '400
- Artemisia Gentileschi. Storia di una passione
- Arte Povera 2011: MAMbo, Bologna, Castello di Rivoli
- Arte Povera 2011: MAXXI, Roma - Triennale di Milano - Museo MADRE, Napoli
- Arte Povera 2011: GAMeC, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo - Teatro Margherita, Bari - Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, Roma
- Gesichter der Renaissance. Meisterwerke italienischer Portrait-Kunst (Renaissance Faces. Masterpieces Of Italian Portraiture)
- Denaro e Bellezza. I banchieri, Botticelli e il rogo delle vanità
- The discovery of light. Tiepolo’s youth