Artemisia's Rome

Key locations in 17th-century Rome, where the artist was born, suffered difficult early years but was later praised as 'the excellent and learned Artemisia'

Plan of the City of Rome Plan of the City of Rome (1645) by Giovanni Domenico de Rossi|Cardinal Camillo Pamphili|Antonio TempestaThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artemisia was born in Rome in 1593.

Her father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi, and her mother, Prudentia di Montone, lived in the artists' district in the north of the city

around Via Ripetta and Piazza del Popolo.

Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Artemisia's local church while growing up was Santa Maria del Popolo, which lies close to the city's northern gate.

In 1605, when Artemisia was 12, her mother died and was buried here. As a young, motherless girl with no one to chaperone her, Artemisia's movements about the city were severely restricted. But she would have known this church and seen the two pictures painted by Caravaggio in a side chapel there.

Taddeo in the Belvedere Court in the Vatican Drawing the Laocoön (about 1595) by Federico ZuccaroThe J. Paul Getty Museum

The streets, churches and collections in Rome offered artists a vast array of art and antiquities to study.

But as a young unmarried woman, Artemisia could not enjoy the opportunities available to male artists.

Plan of the City of Rome. Part 2 with the Trinita dei Monti, Palazzo Borghese and the Baths of Diocletian Plan of the City of Rome. Part 2 with the Trinita dei Monti, Palazzo Borghese and the Baths of Diocletian (1645) by Giovanni Domenico de Rossi|Cardinal Camillo Pamphili|Antonio TempestaThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

In May 1611, aged 17, Artemisia was living and already working as an artist in her father's house in Via della Croce (the street on the far left leading up to the square). 

She was not happy there, and later described staying at home as 'noxious for me'.

One of the many artists who visited the house on Via della Croce at this time was a friend and collaborator of her father's, the landscape and marine painter Agostino Tassi.

Embarkation of Saint Ursula (First half of the seventeenth century) by Agostino Tassi (Agostino Buonamici)Musei di Strada Nuova

Tassi took advantage of a moment when Artemisia was alone to force himself upon her and rape her. Artemisia struggled and threatened him with a knife, after which he promised to marry her. It later transpired he already had a wife.

Plan of the City of Rome. Part 8 with the Castel Sant'Angelo Plan of the City of Rome. Part 8 with the Castel Sant'Angelo (1645) by Giovanni Domenico de Rossi|Cardinal Camillo Pamphili|Antonio TempestaThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artemisia's father charged Tassi with the crime of 'deflowering' his daughter (taking her virginity without consent). Tassi was held in two of the city's prisons. One, the Tor di Nona, stood on the banks of the River Tiber, across from the Castel Sant'Angelo.

The Tor di Nona prison no longer stands, but it was to this site, in May 1612, a year after the rape, that Artemisia was brought to face Tassi. Under the judge's supervision she was tortured to verify her testimony. 

The trial ended months later with Tassi's conviction.

The day following Tassi’s conviction, Artemisia was married to Pierantonio Stiattesi, the brother of the notary who had helped Orazio with the legal proceedings. They were married here, in Santo Spirito in Sassia.
 
Now free to leave her father’s house, the newlyweds left Rome for a new life in Florence.

Right hand of Artemisia Gentileschi holding a brush (1585-1656) by Drawn by Pierre Dumonstier IIBritish Museum

Return to Rome, 1620

After seven years in Florence, where she successfully established her reputation as a painter, Artemisia returned to Rome transformed.

Now hugely sought after as an artist, her unique position as a female painter of grand biblical, historical and mythological subjects – as well as her much-admired beauty and wit – made her a celebrity.  

This elegant depiction of her right hand holding a paintbrush was made in Rome in 1625, probably for a sophisticated collector in the city.

The inscription at the top praises Artemisia as 'excellent and learned'.

Portret van Cassiano del Pozzo (1650 - 1667) by Brune, Pieter deRijksmuseum

Among Artemisia's admirers and collectors was the highly respected antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo. 

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) (1638-1639) by Artemisia GentileschiRoyal Collection Trust, UK

In his palazzo on Via dei Chiavari in Rome, Dal Pozzo created a famous museum of works on paper, the Museo Cartaceo, and amassed a collection of paintings including a portrait of Artemisia by Simon Vouet and a self portrait by the artist herself.

Artemisia Gentileschi Romana Famosissima Pittrice Accad. Ne' Desiosi (1628 (circa)) by Print made by Jérôme David. After Artemisia GentileschiBritish Museum

In this print we can see what Artemisia looked like around this time. She appears with her characteristic fly-away hair, cupid-bow lips and heavily lidded eyes.

Around her image, the Latin inscription acknowledges her city of origin:

'Artemisia from Rome, very famous painter.'

And beneath 'A marvel in the art of painting, more easily envied than imitated.'

With her celebrity in Rome assured, Artemisia moved on to live and work in Venice, London and Naples to continued acclaim. Painting into her sixties, her status and success remained unparalleled in Italy.


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