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Cheat Sheet On Artemisia Gentileschi
The most important female artist of Renaissance
People 26 Dec 2022

There has been a big trend recently to write women back into art history and there is possibly no bigger female historical artist who deserves to be on your radar more than Artemisia Gentileschi. Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia was the first woman artist to be admitted to the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno in Florence. In fact, there barely any female artists practicing at all at the time. Many journalists today choose to focus on her rape trial, yet besides this unfortunate event in her life, she was an incredibly talented artist. She is now the subject of a major retrospective at London’s National Gallery. So, we thought it was about time that we provided you with a cheat sheet on Artemisia Gentileschi!  

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1638. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Art Was In Her Blood

Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi was also a painter. In fact, he even spent a spell in prison with the infamous Caravaggio. It shouldn’t be so much of a surprise then, that Artemisia’s work is often compared to the baroque master. Artemisia grew up in her father’s workshop, and is said to have been substantially more enthusiastic about painting than her brothers. In fact, many experts say that her father often boasted about his daughter’s talent.

She Was Victim To A Horrendous Rape Trial

Not only was Artemisia raped by Agostino Tassi in 1612, the painter her father had hired to teach Artemisia perspective, she was subject to a horrific rape trial. During the trial Artemisia was examined by midwives in front of the judge (!!!) to confirm whether she was still a virgin. On top of this, she was also tortured during the trial, being subject to a device that could have broken her fingers in order to extract the truth from her. Just thin of the subsequences for an artist! Ultimately, Artemisia won her trial and Tassi spent a year in jail. But, get this, once Tassi was released her father then allowed him to rejoin his workplace. You really can’t make this sh*t up!!

Judith and Her Maidservant, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1623. Image via Wikimedia Commons

As A Woman, She Had An Advantage

While women artists were rare in renaissance Italy, Artemisia had an upper-hand on her male counterparts. Being female, she was permitted to paint live nude models, while male artists were not. 

She Was In Demand By Mega Patrons
Word has it that one of Artemisia’s patrons was a member of the esteemed Medici family, with Judith Slaying Holofernes believed to have been painted for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was also commissioned by Michelangelo’s grand-nephew, Michelangelo the Younger, with other patrons including royalty like Charles I of England and Philip II of Spain.

Susanna and the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1610. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Until Recently, Her Work Was Attributed To Men

Somewhat of a back-handed compliment, Artemisia’s work was attributed to male artists until her re-discovery in the 20th century. Of course, something so beautiful could never have been painted by a woman, right? (We’re being sarcastic)

She Was Pals With Galileo

Amongst Artemisia’s friends was the astronomer Galileo. The pair regularly sent letters to one and another and it is claimed that Galileo had an influence on her painting Judith Slaying Holofernes as the depiction of squirting blood is in accordance with his discovery of “the parabolic path of projectiles.” We’re not sure what it means either, but it sure sounds impressive!

Sleeping Venus, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1625-1630. Image via Wikimedia Commons

She Painted Strong Women

Artemisia’s paintings depicted strong, powerful women, contrasting the ideas around female sexuality at the time. Her characters included the biblical characters of Judith and Mary Magdalene.

She Travelled

This may seem like an obvious point, but actually, it isn’t. It was uncommon for women to travel during the period in which Artemisia was painting, but Artemisia actively went around Italy and other parts of Europe to be where her patrons were based. She went on these trips alone, and it was even more rare for a woman to travel without her husband. 

Mary Magdalene In Ecstasy, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1613-1620. Image via Wikimedia Commons

She Left Her Husband

Shortly after her rape trial, Artemisia married Peter Antonio Stiattesi. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long and Artemisia took matters into her own hands, leaving him and taking her daughter with her, something which was very uncommon for women to do at the time. Her daughter Prudentia went on to become a painter herself.

Text Lizzy Vartanian

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