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Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria' during conservation in 2018

Artemisia Gentileschiabout 1615-17

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London
London, United Kingdom

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the seventeenth century, appears in the guise of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian saint martyred in the early fourth century. She leans on a broken wheel studded with iron spikes, to which she was bound and tortured, and which became her standard attribute in art. Her right hand, delicately holding a martyr’s palm between thumb and forefinger, is brought to her chest.

The saint is portrayed as resilient, having endured torture – as indeed the artist herself did during the trial following her rape at the age of 17 by the painter Agostino Tassi. After the trial Artemisia moved from Rome to Florence, where this painting was probably made. She seems to have used her own image frequently in works she produced in Florence – a number of self portraits are known and others are recorded in seventeenth-century inventories. New to the city and keen to demonstrate her talent, she may have painted such pictures in a conscious act of self-promotion.

Details

  • Title: Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria' during conservation in 2018
  • Creator: Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Date Created: about 1615-17
  • Physical Dimensions: 71.4 × 69 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: Italian
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Artist Dates: 1593 - 1654 or later
  • Artist Biography: Artemisia is the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century. She worked in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and London, for the highest echelons of European society, including the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Philip IV of Spain. Artemisia was born in Rome, the eldest of five children and only daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, under whom she trained. Artemisia’s earliest signed and dated painting, ‘Susanna and the Elders’ (Schloss Weißenstein collection, Pommersfelden, Germany), is from 1610. A year later Artemisia was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, an acquaintance and collaborator of her father’s. An infamous trial, meticulously recorded in documents that survive, ensued in 1612. Tassi was found guilty and banished from Rome, though his punishment was never enforced. Following the trial Artemisia married a little-known Florentine artist by the name of Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and left Rome for Florence shortly thereafter. There she had five children and established herself as an independent artist, becoming the first woman to gain membership to the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in 1616. Artemisia returned to Rome in 1620, beset by creditors after running up debts, and she remained there for 10 years (except for a trip to Venice in 1628). From 1630 she settled in Naples, where she ran a successful studio until her death. She briefly visited London in 1639, perhaps to assist her ailing father on the ceiling painting of the Queen’s House in Greenwich (now at Marlborough House in London), but was back in Naples the following year. The precise date of her death is not known but a recently discovered document records her still living in Naples in August 1654.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought with the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund (through the legacy of Sir Denis Mahon), Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, Hannah Rothschild CBE and other donors including those who wish to remain anonymous, 2018

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