Behind the paint ‘Susanna and the Elders’ by Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi self portrait

It’s about time we had a woman painter in the ‘Behind the Paint’ category – and who better than Atremisia Gentileschi the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi (1563 – 1639) an Italian Baroque painter, very much influenced by Caravaggio.  He was  quite an important painter at the time and admired.   Orazio Gentileschi went to Paris where he appeared at the Medici court and remained in London from 1626 until the rest of his life working for Charles 1.  He died there in 1639.

St Francis and the Angel by Orazio Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentilileschi (1593 – 1652) was a very talented painter.  She created powerful and very expressive work.  She had a turbulent life and drew upon this for her inspiration and probably for the cathartic benefits.  She was only 19 when she was raped in her home by her father’s friend Agostino Tassi (c.1580 – 1644) and had to undergo further torture of the legal proceedings which followed.

She won the case and despite this setback she became one of the greatest painters of her day.  A native Roman, she left for Florence where she married a minor Florentine artist Pietro Stiattesi.  She became the first female member of the Florentine Accademia del Disegno and had a lot of support from the Medici family.

17th century Medici family

The painting ‘Susanna and The Elders’ is the artist’s earliest signed painting and was painted before her own traumatic experience.  Susanna, the biblical heroine, owing to a false testimony was destined to die, but was saved by Daniel’s timely intervention.

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna is at her bath when  the two Elders accost her, threatening her with false accusations of adultery if she doesn’t agree to their wishes.  Adultery was punishable by death.  In the artist’s own case, Artemisia claimed that her own attacker conspired with a papal orderly, and just like Susanna, she was  publically accused of adultery.

susanna crouches in fear and repulsion

The isolated figure crouches whilst the two Elders threaten.  her head is turned in disgust and fear.   The woman is cornered and victimized.  She is threatened with slander if she does not give into the wishes of these men.

Michelangelo's expulsion

Michelangelo ‘ Adam in the Expulsion scene in the Sistine Chapel is the reversal of Susanna’s dramatic gesture.

susanna and the elders detail

Artemisia borrowed the technique of foreshortening from Caravaggio, seen clearly on the dark-haired elder.

Although Artemisia’s work show her teachers influence (her father) her work grows more and more expressive and dramatic, whilst her father’s stays very graceful and even lyrical.

Great website with lots of paintings here

Nice website about this artist and lots of her work here

A wonderful short biography of the artist here

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3 Responses to “Behind the paint ‘Susanna and the Elders’ by Artemisia Gentileschi”

  1. artistatexit0 Says:

    I think her father was a slightly better painter, but Artemisia may have been the better artist. Can you appreciate the difference? Some of works are hard to forget.

  2. Yes, I think what you mean Al – she is more expressive. Her father did some great work too, the one I hace included has a kind of accidental avstract quality to it if you look at it from a distance. Being a sucessful woman arrtist was unusual for the time though. thanks for visiting appreciated 🙂

  3. […] and sculptor Kathe Kollwitz (1867 -1922).  I have already written about Gentileschi in my post ‘Behind the Paint – Susannah and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi’  There is a good website which is dedicated to this artist  […]

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