ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI

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The world of Italian art - especially in the early to mid 1600s - was, needless to say, and extremely male dominated environment. But this didn’t stop Artemisia Gentileschi, who became one of the most accomplished painters of the Baroque, post-Caravaggio era. 

As a young girl, Artemisia, who was seldom allowed out of the house, was raped by her father’s friend and collaborator, Agostino Tassi - along with another man. Tassi then promised to marry her, awww. Despite her protests, Artemisia’s father had had no problem with the proposition - until he discovered that Tassi’s previous wife - a prostitute who Tassi attempted to have murdered -  was still alive, at which point he finally decided to maybe bring charges against the man who raped his daughter. Thanks, Dad!

A rape trial, in those days - and, let’s be honest, even now - is not a safe space for the victim. Artemisia was immediately falsely accused of numerous acts of immorality. Because she was unmarried and no longer a virgin, she was considered to be dishonorable and therefore not a credible witness. Finally, after enduring invasive gynecological exams and torture by thumbscrew (which is a small vice, sometimes with protruding studs on the interior surface, that victim’s fingers were placed in and slowly crushed ) and still maintaining her story, the court ruled against Tassi, who was sentenced to exile (though the sentence was never actually carried out). Thanks, court system!

Artemisia’s father - who had tried multiple times to get her to become a nun - quickly married her off to another older man, and they moved to Florence. Artemisia’s talents quickly caught the eyes of Florence’s elite and she found herself in the company of intellectuals such as Galileo. In 1614, at the age of 17, with the financial and social support of many patrons and respected artists, she was the first woman to be admitted to Florence’s Accademia del Disegno.

Throughout the following years, she became known for erotic nudes and her work almost always featured heroic women - often nude or nearly nude.. She was comissioned by members of the social elite, such as Philip IV of Spain, the Cathedral of Pozzuoli, and Charles I of England. She became the first woman to run a large studio with many assistants. 94% of her works featured women as protagonists or as equal to men, intentionally lacking the stereotypical 'feminine' traits of the time—sensitivity, timidness, and weakness.

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