Tower of London (1625–77) by Wenceslaus HollarThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artemisia’s stay in London at the end of the 1630s is a fascinating, yet mysterious, episode in her career.
It illustrates the extent of her international fame and how much she was in demand among illustrious patrons.
Charles I (1600-49) (1635 - Before June 1636) by Sir Anthony Van DyckRoyal Collection Trust, UK
Charles I of England was a great patron of the arts and not only amassed a superb collection of European art, but also encouraged acclaimed artists to work at his court.
This triple portrait by Anthony van Dyck, the King’s principal court painter, was made to be sent to the great sculptor, Lorenzo Bernini, in Rome. From it Bernini was able to sculpt a marble portrait bust in the summer of 1638.
By this date Charles had already secured the services of Artemisia’s father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi.
Anthony van Dyck, Orazio Gentileschi, a portrait drawing (1627/1635)British Museum
Orazio – shown here in a portrait drawing by Van Dyck – had been resident in London since 1626, along with Artemisia’s two brothers, who assisted their father.
The king was eager to have Artemisia work at the English court alongside her father, and seems to have issued her with numerous invitations – even dispatching one of her brothers to Naples, where she was living at the time – to accompany her back to London.
But Artemisia appears to have been reluctant to go. She had not seen her father for many years and they may not have parted on the best terms. Orazio was known to be controlling and have a short temper. He also may have resented his daughter’s success.
The Banqueting House, Whitehall
The Banqueting House is one of the few surviving parts of the Palace of Whitehall that can be visited today. The rest of the palace was largely destroyed by fire at the end of the 17th century.
The building also remains home to a magnificent painted ceiling commissioned by Charles I from one of Europe’s leading painters, Peter Paul Rubens.
Palatium Regis prope Londinum, vulgo White-hall (Royal Palace of Whitehall, London) (ca. 1647) by Wenceslaus HollarThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Despite her reluctance, Artemisia does seem to have arrived in London by the end of 1638. Arriving by the Thames, she would have discovered a thriving city for trade. However, the royal palace at Whitehall was rather sprawling and mostly Tudor-built. Only the gleaming white stone building of the Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones, possessed the look of a modern European royal residence.
Portrait of the Artist (1623) by Sir Peter Paul RubensRoyal Collection Trust, UK
This self portrait by Rubens was sent by the artist to Charles in 1623. The massive canvases of the Banqueting House ceiling, also sent from abroad, were installed in 1636, just a couple of years before Artemisia’s arrival.
Queen Henrietta Maria (After 1632) by van Dyck, Sir AnthonyDulwich Picture Gallery
Charles’s queen, Henrietta Maria – shown here in a workshop copy of a Van Dyck portrait made after 1632 – was also a keen patron of the arts.
The Queen's House, Greenwich
Henrietta Maria set out to create a ‘House of Delights’ further down the River Thames at Greenwich. The building, again designed by Inigo Jones, was to be filled with art.
The walls were hung with pictures, including works by Artemisia and Orazio. But the focus of the Great Hall – the largest and most public room in the house – was to be a magnificent painted ceiling.
In the following clip from the National Gallery’s film ‘Artemisia Gentileschi in London’ curator Letizia Treves explains more.
Artemisia Gentileschi in London| National Gallery (2020-03-12) by National Gallery, LondonThe National Gallery, London
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) (c.1638-9) by Artemisia GentileschiRoyal Collection Trust, UK
Artemisia’s Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) is a wonderful testament to her time in London where she was fêted for her skills as an artist.
As she wrote in a letter from London to the Duke of Modena in Italy, she had received 'great honours and favours' at the court in London but she remained dissatisfied.
By 1640 she had returned home to Naples, where she remained for the rest of her life.
Charles I Of England ExecutionLIFE Photo Collection
Artemisia may have been wise to leave England in 1640. Although the magnificence of the court of Charles I continued for a few years after her departure, its leading artistic light, Anthony van Dyck, died at the end of 1641.
The events of the Civil War between the Royalists and Republicans that began the following year ultimately led to the execution of Charles I before the Banqueting House on 30 January 1649.
The National Gallery, London
But London has not forgotten Artemisia's visit. The ceiling for Queen Henrietta Maria's 'house of delights' can now be found at Marlborough House off Pall Mall, and paintings by Artemisia are conserved at the Royal Collection and here, at the National Gallery, London.