Artemisia's Florence

Key locations tracing Artemisia Gentileschi's years of personal and professional independence and success, 1613–1620

Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Artemisia Gentileschi probably arrived in the Tuscan city of Florence at the beginning of 1613.

She was 19 years old, newly married, and was putting the traumatic events of her rape by the artist Agostino Tassi behind her.

She was also determined to make a success of her career as a painter.

Via Santa Reparata (formerly Via del Campaccio)

Both Artemisia and her new husband, Pierantonio Stiattesi, had family ties in Tuscany. Artemisia’s father Orazio was originally from Pisa and Artemisia herself adopted her Tuscan family’s surname ‘Lomi’ as her own, during her time in Florence. 

Pierantonio’s father lived in Florence on this street – then known as the Via del Campaccio – and it was here that Artemisia set up her studio on arrival. 

Santa Maria Novella

In September 1613 Artemisia gave birth to her first child, Giovanni Battista. He was christened here, in the great Florentine basilica of Santa Maria Novella, but didn't survive and was buried there a week later.
Artemisia subsequently gave birth every year for the next four years. Only one of her children, her daughter Prudenzia, survived early childhood. Suffering the grief of these multiple losses and being almost continuously pregnant must have presented additional difficulties to pursuing a career as a painter.

The Pitti Palace

Like all artists in Florence, Artemisia hoped to win favour and commissions from the city’s ruling family, the Medici. Their principal residence was here, at the Pitti Palace. 

Artemisia’s unquestionable skills as an artist, her unique status as a female painter of grand religious subjects and her considerable charm, all aroused interest among contemporaries. Soon the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de' Medici, his wife Maria Maddalena of Austria, his sister Caterina de’ Medici and other members of the court, all appear to have become patrons.

Judith and Holofernes (ca. 1612-13) by Artemisia GentileschiMuseo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

A version of this painting, Artemisia’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, seems to have been made for the Medici and was later recorded in the Uffizi, where a large proportion of the Medicis' astonishing collection ended up.

Self Portrait as a Lute Player (c. 1615-18) by Artemisia GentileschiWadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

This Self Portrait as a Lute Player, about 1615–17, may refer to Artemisia’s participation in an entertainment performed at the Medici court where she sang and danced in the role of a 'gypsy'. 

Villa Medicea di Artimino

The picture was recorded among the works by Artemisia hanging here at the Villa Medicea 'La Ferdinanda', one of the Medici properties in the countryside surrounding Florence.

Casa Buonarroti, Via Ghibelina, Florence

Artemisia’s success at the Medici court was in large part due to the support of influential patrons who also became firm friends.
This is the home of one of these, the poet Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger ­– the great-nephew of the celebrated Renaissance artist, Michelangelo. Today the Casa Buonarroti is open as a museum celebrating Michelangelo’s life.

The Casa Buonarroti still contains many of its original decorations including a ceiling painting by Artemisia in which she depicts herself as the Allegory of Inclination, seated on a cloud.

Buonarroti not only helped Artemisia with connections and commissions, he also became a close friend. He was almost certainly the intended godfather to Artemisia's second child, Agnola, if she had lived long enough to be baptised. He also lent both Artemisia and her husband, Pierantonio, money. The latter seems to have made very little contribution to the family income and the couple lived beyond their means.

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata

Artemisia achieved a significant mark of approval when, in 1616, she became the first woman ever to be admitted to the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (the Academy of the Arts of Drawing). This gathering of artists and leading cultural figures of the city had been founded 50 years previously and initially met in the cloisters of this church, the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata.

Galileo Galilei (1624) by Ottavio LeoniNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Among the academy’s members were important members of the Medici court. This included the renowned astronomer Galileo Galilei, who later became Artemisia’s personal friend and correspondent. 

Palazzo Frescobaldi

In around 1618–19, Artemisia began a passionate affair with the wealthy nobleman Francesco Maria Maringhi. Maringhi was brought up by the patrician banker, Matteo Frescobaldi, who lived here at the Palazzo Frescobaldi. It was through Maringhi’s influence that Artemisia was able to rent a house on the Piazza Frescobaldi close by.

A cache of love letters between Artemisia and Maringhi recently came to light in the Frescobaldi family archives. These letters not only give a fascinating glimpse into the intensity of their relationship, but also into Artemisia’s tireless commitment to her work. 

Self Portrait as a Lute Player (c. 1615-18) by Artemisia GentileschiWadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Ultimately, mounting debts meant Artemisia had to leave Florence with her family, arriving in Rome by March 1620. She had to abandon her studio, with numerous belongings and unfinished works.

Once settled in Rome, she and Maringhi continued writing to each other. Artemisia’s husband, mindful of Maringhi’s influence in Florence, wrote to him too.

Artemisia and Pierantonio appear to have separated by 1623, leaving the 30 year old artist to support herself and her daughter alone – a feat she pulled off with considerable success for the next thirty odd years. 

The Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence

Artemisia never returned to live and work in Florence, but many of her most celebrated works remain in the city – both here at the galleries of the Uffizi, at the Pitti Palace and at the Casa Buonarroti.
Despite its challenges, Artemisia’s seven years in Florence allowed her to establish herself as an independent artist worthy of the highest and most discerning patronage.

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