• Isabella Saraceni

Artemisia Gentileschi and Women's Rage

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654)
Nothing says #MeToo like a six foot canvas depicting revenge on the man who betrayed you.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait, 1616


Artemisia was the only female of the several children born to Orazio Gentileschi, a famous painter of the Renaissance and rival of the better known Caravaggio. Artemisia had recognizable talent in the arts from age twelve which set her apart not only from her male siblings who had more privilege than she did from birth, but it also set her apart from the typical course of a woman’s life at the time. Normally young women would be either married off at a young age or sent to live in the convents devoting their lives to god. Because of her talent, Orazio decided to keep her a little longer and train her in the arts eventually handing her off to his friend and fellow painter Agustino Tassi for further instruction…. “she had no idea that she was going to get too close to Tassi… and without her permission”

One night he came to her bedroom.. claimed to be admiring the paintings on the walls.. and then forced himself on her.

“I would like to kill you with this knife because you have mocked me" -Gentileschi

She wounded him with the knife saying that if he wouldn't have defended himself she very well would have murdered him for what he had done. He proceeded to ask for her hand in marriage that way she wouldn’t have to live with the shame of having been deflowered by a man to whom she was not betrothed- he thought he would make up for it by making her a respectable wife in society. He even went so far as to defend himself by saying that the whole artistic community had slept with Artemisia… so why should he be punished for it if everyone has done it, right? ugh. Also, as if saving her reputation really heals all of the wounds here—expectations of women were a little different back then but I can’t imagine her feelings about it were different than any woman today.

She brought him to trial for raping her. It took several months, and she was on trial just as much as he was. To be sure that she was being truthful, she was tortured with a sibille in front of the entire courtroom to prove that she wasn't lying.

Gentileschi told him her thumbscrews were the wedding ring he’d promised.

Even after Tassi was convicted, he never served any time. He had connections to the Pope who thought Tassi was a good man, a respectable man, someone who would never commit such a crime- why ruin a good man’s life, right?

Sound familiar? (Brett Kavanaugh? Harvey Weinstein? Louis C.K.? 142 men accused of sexual misconduct in the past few years.)

In response, Gentileschi painted her infamous Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620). There have been so many variations of this painting over time all depicting Judith in somewhat the same way— The virtuous lady doing the dirty work for God and the greater good… but so rarely do we get to see the dirty work…because women aren’t supposed to be seen that way- vengeful, angry, betrayed and seeking revenge.

They are usually shown after the action has been done, holding Holofernes head with a dainty hand, or gently in a basket.

They are often portrayed with a look of uncertainty- like they are scared to do this even though they have already made the decision.

They were often portrayed after the act- some still sexualized even in the wake of their revenge- nipples exposed - looking at the viewer with that 'come hither' stare Judith is usually shown with another woman- usually an older or more typically 'unattractive' woman almost appearing in a villainous form- who is rooting her on to commit the act- showing that without her Judith would be indecisive

Our anger undermines us. why else would we try so hard to get it in check? Hiding tears in an office bathroom, clenching our jaws in SUV’s with our mother, smiling tight, white, desperate smiles at the men whose words and hands crawl up our legs.” —Roxane Gay

The men whose words crawl up our legs.



Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1620, Uffizi Galleries, Florence Italy

  • A self portrait

  • Blood spurting, about to get all over her pristine yellow dress

  • Her face is purposeful, focused, furrowed with certainty— she knows what she's doing and why- to be victorious

  • Another young woman helps to hold him down- they are in this together and they both know what they want

  • His body size competing with both of theirs combined

  • For the first time in her life she is an active participant— her sleeves are rolled up- muscles flexing- her expressing and stance are more realistic

  • Violence at the hands of women, painted by a woman

  • An autobiography of her experience mirroring the legend of Judith

“The life ruiner alone didn’t ruin me. the world that made him did— the place that continues to manufacture replicas of him and continues to create the circumstances in which he and his replicas thrive. What is there to do about that?” -Roxane Gay

Gentileschi's Range of Expression

range of emotion - use of self portraiture - often using her own image, her own face to tell the story of the narratives and legends portrayed in her work

Gay, Roxane. Not That Bad. Harper Collins Publishers, 2018, pp.153-167.

Frick, Carol Collier. Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque. National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2007, pp. 198-213.

Dasal, Jennifer, narrator. "Shock Art: Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes." Art Curious, Season 4, Episode 3, 2018.

1 view

​© 2012-2019 Isabella Saraceni. All rights reserved.

Designed by North Star Design Studio

View Privacy Policy

  • Isabella Saraceni on Instagram
This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now