Artemisia is born on 8 July, the first child and only daughter of Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639) and Prudentia di Montone (1575–1605).
Artemisia is only 12 years old when, on 26 December, her mother dies at the age of 30.
Artemisia probably begins her training in her father’s studio. According to a letter written by Orazio to Christina of Lorraine, the dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany (1565–1637), in 1612, Artemisia has been painting for three years.
Artemisia paints Susannah and the Elders, her earliest known signed and dated work.
In early May Artemisia is raped in her father’s house by the painter Agostino Tassi (about 1580–1644). With the false promise of marriage, Tassi persuades her to continue a sexual relationship for several months.
Orazio decides to press charges against Tassi for deflowering his daughter. The trial, which lasts more than eight months, sees both Artemisia and Tassi questioned on multiple occasions, along with several witnesses.
On 14 May the sibille, a form of torture that tightens ropes around the fingers, is used to test the veracity of Artemisia’s testimony. On 27 November the judge condemns Tassi, forcing him to choose between five years’ hard labour and banishment from Rome. On 28 November Tassi chooses the latter and the court sentences him to exile, which is never enforced.
The following day, on 29 November, Artemisia is married to the Florentine painter Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi (b. 1584), whose elder brother had prepared Orazio’s legal defence.
By December the couple are arranging to leave Rome for Florence. They depart either at the end of 1612 or early the following the year.
By 2 March Artemisia and her husband have arrived in Florence and Artemisia has set up a studio in her father-in-law’s house.
On 21 September she gives birth to their first child, a son baptised Giovanni Battista who lives little more than a week.
In December Artemisia gives birth to a daughter named Agnola, almost certainly in honour of Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (1568–1646). Agnola dies within a few days, before she can be baptised.
In August Buonarroti pays Artemisia an advance for the Allegory of Inclination, with further payments made in November and the following year upon the picture’s completion.
Artemisia seeks financial assistance from Buonarroti, following ‘a number of misfortunes’ that have befallen her husband (who accrued other debts over their years in Florence). On 8 November Artemisia’s second son is born and named Cristofano after his godfather, the painter Cristofano Allori (1577–1621).
On 19 July Artemisia becomes the first woman to become a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.
On 1 August Artemisia’s daughter Prudenzia (also known as Palmira) is born.
In March Artemisia receives payment on behalf of Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, perhaps an advance for paintings to be executed. On 13 October a third daughter, Lisabella, is born. She dies at a little less than nine months old, on 9 April the following year.
Artemisia begins a passionate affair with Francesco Maria Maringhi (1593–after 1653), a Florentine in the service of the Frescobaldi family. Several letters attest to their relationship, which appears to have continued well beyond Artemisia’s Florentine years.
On 13 January Artemisia receives some ultramarine, with which she is to finish a Hercules commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici. Following her failure to pay for the expensive pigment that had been advanced to her, Artemisia’s household goods are sequestered. Around the same time, on 10 February, she writes to the grand duke asking permission to travel to Rome for a few months to attend to some personal and family troubles.
Artemisia and her family leave Florence in late February or early March; she stays in Rome for the next six years, and is not documented in Florence again. She and her husband ask Maringhi to settle their affairs in Florence.
In April Artemisia’s son Cristofano dies, aged only four-and-a-half years old. She writes to Maringhi that she is ‘dying from pain’ at the loss of her son. At the end of May, Artemisia’s husband writes to Maringhi describing the huge demand for her work, and the cardinals and princes who frequent their house in Rome.
Artemisia is now established in Rome, living on via del Corso with her husband, their daughter Prudenzia and servants. She and her daughter are recorded living here in 1622, 1623, 1624 and 1625; sometime after 1622, Artemisia and her husband become estranged.
Meanwhile, Orazio definitively leaves Rome for Genoa; he does not see his daughter again until they are both in London in the late 1630s.
Susannah and the Elders is signed and dated 1622. The Portrait of a Gonfaloniere is inscribed with Artemisia’s name and the same date on the reverse.
Three paintings attributed to Artemisia are acquired in Rome by Fernando Afán de Ribera y Enríquez, 3rd Duke of Alcalá (1583–1637), Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See, at whose invitation Artemisia probably travels to Naples in 1630.
Artemisia leaves Rome for Venice in late 1626 or early 1627, where she almost certainly frequents Nicolas Régnier (1591–1667) and Simon Vouet (1590–1649) whom she had befriended in Rome. She remains in Venice for almost three years, occupying a central place in the city’s artistic and cultural life. In 1627 a pamphlet is printed containing verses dedicated to three of her paintings. The letters of Antonino Collurafi (1585–1655) are also published, noting Artemisia’s presence in Venice and extolling her talents.
A payment is made to Artemisia in Venice for a painting commissioned on behalf of Philip IV of Spain (1605–1665).
Artemisia probably leaves Venice in 1630 to avoid the plague that was ravaging the city. It is not known exactly when she arrived in Naples (where the Duke of Alcalá is now viceroy), but by the summer of 1630 she is well established in the city. In August she writes from Naples to antiquarian and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657) in Rome, saying that she will begin his pictures once she has finished some works ‘for the empress’ (the Infanta María of Spain (1606–1646), Philip IV’s sister). Apart from her visit to London in the late 1630s, Artemisia appears to remain in Naples for the rest of her life.
Artemisia signs Clio, Muse of History with the date 1632.
An English traveller, Bullen Reymes (1613–1672), visits Artemisia and her daughter in their Neapolitan residence, reporting that Prudenzia paints and plays the spinet.
Artemisia writes several letters seeking patronage elsewhere, for example to Francesco I d’Este (1610–1658) in Modena, to Ferdinand II de’ Medici (1610– 1670) in Florence and, via Cassiano dal Pozzo, to Cardinal Antonio Barberini (1607–1671) in Rome. She says in some of these letters that her brother has been dispatched by Charles I of England to take her to London.
Despite lamenting the high cost of living in Naples and the turbulence caused in the city by recent conflict, Artemisia is clearly ensconced in the artistic life of the city. She is working around this time on cycles of paintings to which other Neapolitan artists were also contributing: commissions that she almost certainly obtained through the viceroy, Manuel de Acevedo Zúñiga y Fonseca, Count of Monterrey (d. 1637), and the artist Massimo Stanzione (about 1585?–1656), whom she had met in Rome.
Artemisia continues to seek employment in Florence and in April writes to Dal Pozzo about a possible journey to Pisa to sell some property in order to provide for her daughter’s dowry.
In October Artemisia writes to Dal Pozzo expressing her need for money for her daughter’s marriage, and asking whether or not her husband is still living. She writes to him again in November, expressing her desire to return to Rome. This is the last record of Artemisia in Naples this year; she probably leaves for London early in 1638.
It is assumed that Artemisia arrives in London at some point during 1638, and assists her father with the final stages of painting the ceiling canvases for the Queen’s House in Greenwich, now at Marlborough House.
Orazio Gentileschi dies in London on 7 February. In December Artemisia writes to Francesco I d’Este, the Duke of Modena, from London saying that her brother has been dispatched to Modena to present one of her paintings to him; his reply is sent to her in London the following March.
Naples 1640-1654 (or later)
Artemisia returns to Naples.
Several letters pass between Artemisia and Antonio Ruffo (1610/11–1678), a Sicilian nobleman and collector. These letters make reference to payments from Ruffo for Artemisia’s paintings, and to his acting as intermediary on her behalf with other patrons. On 13 March 1649 Artemisia writes in one of these letters that she is bankrupt. In 1649 Artemisia signs and dates another Susannah and the Elders.
Artemisia writes to Ruffo in January, explaining that she is convalescing from an illness contracted at Christmastime.
This is the year of Artemisia’s last dated picture, Susannah and the Elders.
In Venice, the writer Gian Francesco Loredan (1607–1661) and poet Pietro Michiele (1603–1651) publish Il Cimiterio: Epitafi giocosi, which includes two disrespectful ‘posthumous’ epitaphs about Artemisia that have previously led scholars to believe she died around this time.
Recently discovered documents show that Artemisia is living in Naples and paying taxes in August 1654. This is the last record we have of Artemisia, who must have died soon thereafter, in her early sixties.
Over a career lasting four and a half decades, Artemisia lived in at least five different cities and worked for some of the greatest international art patrons of her day.
Timeline of Artemesia Gentileschi's Life by Charlotte Ager
Text extracted from Letizia Treves et al., Artemisia
Copyright © National Gallery Company Limited 2020
Illustration by Charlotte Ager