Artemisia Gentileschi: Artist Exploration

Quick Facts:

Born: 1593

Died: 1652-56 (different sources claim different years)

Style: Italian Baroque

Frequent Subjects: Women in the bible

Notable works: Susanna and the Elders, Judith Slaying Holofernes

-Began Painting as a teenager.

-Daughter of famous painter, Orazio Gentileschi.

-Artemisia was raped by fellow artist, Agnostino Tassi, who worked with her father. There was an intense trial and Tassi defended himself by claiming Artemisia was promiscuous. However, once Tassi’s old crimes were brought up, the type of person he was became clear and he was imprisoned.

-The rape and trial often overshadowed her artwork.

-First woman to attend The Academia Del Disengo

Close Analysis of Two of her Paintings and Comparison to Others: 

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Judith Slaying Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi

The story of Judith Slaying Holofernes has inspired many painters. The basic story is a woman named Judith who slays the general, Holofernes who was about to destroy her home city. She is able to gain access to his tent because he had desires for her.

What stands out about Artemisia’s painting? The women in the painting look determined and intense. This is in contrast to Caravaggio’s version of the story where Judith is looked after by an old woman and her facial expression looks undetermined.

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Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio

And unlike Artemisia’s painting, it doesn’t look like she’s putting much strength into it. In her painting, the women’s arms indicate more force being put into holding the man down. The story says that Holofernes was passed out when Judith beheaded him, so perhaps one could argue, there wouldn’t really be a large amount of strength needed.

But no, someone would need have an intense hold on him in order to remove his head. With Artemisia’s painting the grip on his head appears to be strong with much force behind it. However, with Caravaggio her hand looks like it’s halfheartedly gripping the man’s hair. And again with Judith’s face in the painting she doesn’t look like she’s really into the beheading. In fact, she looks slightly grossed out.

The facial expression of Judith in Artemisia’s painting has much more determination Her’s more realistically the “struggle” in her facial muscles as she cuts through the neck.

There’s also the expression of the ‘victim’ to explore, in Caravaggio’s painting the look on his face carries more bewilderment and shock. Artemisia’s, on the other hand, carries a look of pain and hopelessness in the man’s eyes. In this aspect of their paintings, they both succeeded.

So is Artemisia’s painting better? In terms of capturing the subject matter, yes. But there are plenty of others to compare her painting to.

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Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Cristofano Allori

The problem with Allori’s painting is that Judith is looking sleepy and delicate. She should have the expression of someone who just conquered their enemy. However, his painting is no doubt, good. The clothing and look of the maid are major pluses. It might not be comparable to Artemisia’s painting because Allori’s painting is showing the aftermath of the scene. But the portrayal of Judith is what’s important and Artemisia seems to have done it better in comparison to this painting.

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Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Elder’s painting gives off so much confidence, this woman looks like a real conqueror. The slight smirk on her soft featured face gives off great power. The expression on her victim’s head is somewhat comical further showing how Judith has fully dominated him. In short, the Judith in this painting gives off a perfect vibe of power and femininity. This is one that does well with the subject matter and stands up to Artemisia’s painting.

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Susanna and the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi

Like Judith’s story, Susanna and the Elders also inspired a large number of painters. The story tells of two older men watching Susanna as she bathes and they later threaten to destroy her reputation if she doesn’t have sex with them. She refuses and is arrested, the men are later proved to be liars.

What’s good about Artemisia’s portrayal of Susanna is the angry yet sad expression on her face. This really captures how someone would likely react in such a situation. Her hands raised are a simple way to show her resistance and aggressive dismissal of the two men.

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Susanna and the Elders, Alessandro Allori

Here Susanna looks less resistant and her face reads more like it’s slightly annoyed rather than angry like in Artemisia’s piece. The men in Allori’s look much more sleazy in his painting though, as they should. The painting’s problem lies in the fact that Susanna looks too passive.

Body-wise Artemisia painted Susanna better. In Allori’s painting, there’s something awkward looking about her body positioning and her breasts look slightly off. In Artemisia’s she looks much left stiff and her body seems to have better proportions.

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Susannah and the Elders, Massimo Stanzione

Stanzione’s painting also shows Susanna with anger on her face but in his painting her face seems more delicate, which isn’t bad in this case. Her pale skin is also good in this painting – the contrast with the darkness of the men and the rest of the painting do wonders. In a way, it plays up her stronger moral values over the two men. The men also look effectively lecherous and perverse, like in Allori’s painting.

The position of Susanna’s legs in Stanzione’s painting is are also slightly more well-positioned than in Artemisia’s piece. The two of their paintings are equal in their capture of the story.

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