L'8 luglio del 1593, nasceva a Roma Artemisia Gentileschi e, in ocasione del suo quattrocentoventisettesimo (427th) compleanno, Google dedica alla pittrice un "doodle" che si rifà, nella posa del corpo, a un suo celebre autoritratto oggi conservato al Kensington Palace di Londra, ma, a differenza dell'autoritratto, con il viso, dall'espressione risoluta, rivolto verso lo spettatore. I colori stessi del "doodle" richiamano i chiaroscuri caravaggeschi ed i colori che spesso ritroviamo nei quadri di Artemisia. Incredibile pensare che è solo nei primi decenni del '900 grazie ad alcuni studiosi tra cui Roberto Longhi, e soprattutto con la Mostra del Caravaggio e dei caravaggeschi tenutosi a Milano nel 1951 che, sia Caravaggio che i Caravaggisti, e tra questi anche Artemisia, escono da un oblio durato tre secoli!
Viene spontaneo parlare della Gentileschi usando il nome, piuttosto che il cognome, un po' per non confonderla con il padre, Orazio Gentileschi, anche lui noto pittore; un po' perché si è parlato così tanto di lei che ci sembra di conoscerla. Infatti, grazie all'eccezionalità dei suoi quadri, al fatto di essere riuscita ad eccellere in un campo, ed un'epoca, dominato dagli uomini, e grazie alla triste e ben documentata vicenda personale dello stupro da parte del pittore, collega del padre, Agostino Tassi, Artemisia è diventata un'icona del femminismo moderno e le sue opere vengono spesso interpretate attraverso la lente delle sue vicende personali, tanto che c'è chi si chiede se, o fino a che punto, sia opportuno interpretarle in questo modo. In basso, vi proponiamo una serie di video, articoli e podcast interessantissimi, alcuni dei quali provano a rispondere a questa domanda.
The pain that powered Artemisia
She had a turbulent personal life but that didn't stop Artemisia Gentileschi becoming one of the greatest painters of the 17th century. ln fact, as Catherine Fletcher reveals on the eve of a National Gallery exhibition on the artist, trauma spurred Artemisia on to greater heights.
In 1620, the artist Artemisia Gentileschi was in the process of splitting up with her husband. In between the legal paperwork, she made a painting of the Old Testament heroine Yael. In the Book of Judges, Yael saves the Israelites by assassinating the Canaanite commander Sisera. Artemisia showed her in modern dress, poised to hammer a nail through Sisera's head. It's tempting to wonder quite what Artemisia's ex made of it all.
Once perceived as a novelty on account of her sex, Artemisia is now regarded as one of the most important European painters of the 17th century. She was an impressive entrepreneur with what art historian Mary Garrard has called "almost unreasonably grand ambition". Her extraordinary portrayals rework themes from biblical and classical sources to show women in control not only of their own destiny, but those of their people.
Judith, another biblical heroine, famously assassinated an enemy general, Horofernes. Artemisia, however, added her own visceral
spin to the killing, showing Judith in the act of beheading Holofernes, blood spurting from his neck as she puts the power of her arm into the sword.
Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, an artist influenced by the leading Italian painter Caravaggio. She appears to have had a sheltered childhood but one in which she was given the opportunity to acquire skills in painting - and, by her late teens, she was already producing spectacular art. Her earliest surviving work is Susanna and the Elders. Painted in 1610, it shows two older men spying on the virtuous Susanna in her bath. This was a popular biblical subject, but while many portrayals showed Susanna either oblivious to the Elders' gaze or even perhaps enjoying it, in Artemisia's painting
she is distressed by the experience. This is a depiction of female trauma, not a saucy entertainment.
The subject of the chaste Susanna may also have helped the young Artemisia fend off damaging rumours that suggested her father had encouraged her to model nude before an audience. Maintaining a reputation for chastity was vital to young women in the period. But just two years later, Artemisia's own reputation was put on trial in the most public and painful circumstances imaginable.
In May 1611 Artemisia had been raped by Agostino Tassi, a fellow painter. Tassi was supposed to be helping Artemisia develop her trompe I'oeil technique, but abused his position to pursue her - with the help of a woman called Tuzia, a close friend and tenant of the Gentileschi family. Tuzia, Artemisia testified, "tried to persuade me that Agostino was a well-mannered young man, courteous
to women, and that we would get along very well with each other". Persuaded that Tassi would marry her, Artemisia became the victim of ongoing sexual exploitation.
In March 1612, however, Orazio Gentileschi took his daughter's teacher to court. In the eyes of the legal system at the time, the
complaint was his: Tassi had 'deflowered' his virginal daughter, thereby compromising her chances of marriage.
Artemisia was subjected to a virginity test, carried out by two midwives, and tortured with thumbscrews in an attempt to ensure her testimony was truthful. The experience she recounted to the court was horrific: Tassi, she said, "pushed me in and locked the [bedroom] door. He then threw me onto the edge of the bed, pushing me with a hand on my breast, and he put a knee between my thighs to prevent me from closing them". He put a hand over her mouth "to keep me from screaming". Artemisia still "tried to scream as best I could, calling Tuzia. I scratched his face and pulled his hair... When I saw myself free I went to the table drawer and took out a knife and moved toward Agostino saying: 'I'd like to kill you with this knife because you have dishonoured me'." She didn't go through with the threat, but it is hardly surprising that many people have argued that Artemisia's paintings of powerful women betray her own trauma and temperament.
Tassi predictably claimed that not only had Artemisia agreed to have sex, but that she had been known to sleep around. Her father denied it in court. Agostino, he insisted, "cannot say that Artemisia has misbehaved with others, since he would be lying through his teeth, because from the day that he deflowered her he constantly put men around Artemisia's house to watch whoever entered and left, both day and night." Artemisia confirmed: "I never had any sexual relations with any other person besides the said
Agostino. It is true that Cosimo [a friend of Agostino] made all sorts of efforts to have me... but never did I consent."
Agostino and Cosimo had made the mistake of boasting about their pursuit of Artemisia to another man, Giovanni Battista Stiattesi, who now gave evidence against them. Stiattesi had other details to add, too, not least that Agostino was already married, had run off with his sister-in-law (technically incest, for which he had served time in jail), and had then hired contract killers to murder his wife. None of this endeared Tassi to the judges, who found against him. However, he seems to have served only eight months in prison before the case was dismissed.
Inclined to marry
Later the same year, Artemisia married Pierantonio Stiattesi, probably a relative of that key witness, a move that helped mend her reputation. He was a citizen of Florence, where the couple relocated early in 1613. Artemisia's dowry was probably invested in their business, to which Pierantonio brought useful city contacts. Within two years Artemisia had been commissioned to produce
three paintings for Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. She then went on to paint an Allegory of Inclination for the Casa Buonarroti, the house being established by Michelangelo's great-nephew to commemorate his celebrated relative. .
Artemisia's Florentine years were a whirl of work, child-bearing and financial juggling. In the course of seven years she had at least four - probably five - children. In Florence she became acquainted with the astronomer Galileo Galilei, who had recently published his groundbreaking treatise The Starry Messenger, and in 1616 she was the first female artist to become a member of the Florentine Academy, the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno. In 1618, she also embarked on a four-year affair with nobleman Francesco Maria Maringhi, a part of her story only
discovered in 2011 when a collection of letters came to light. Her husband apparently tolerated the relationship, at least for a while. this was not entirely unusual in the context of marriages of convenience, especially in a case like this where Maringhi's patronage was useful to the couple.
As Pierantonio pointed out in a letter to Maringhi, appearances mattered: "If you want to get ahead, you need to make a show of good taste and demonstrate that you live in comfort, because when people see that your house is in order, it makes all the difference and you enjoy much more credit." And to keep up appearances, he and Artemisia relied on credit to obtain the luxurious fashions that also featured in her paintings. So long as they were doing well, they could keep up repayments, but the loans became problematic when their marriage broke down.
With her affair having, once again, made her the centre of public scandal, Artemisia left Florence. Solely responsible now for the debts that had now once been shared with her husband, and facing the confiscation of her property, she moved back to Rome.
Artemisia spent the next decade first in Rome and then in Venice. More than a decade earlier, Rome had opened up its art academy, the Accademia di San Luca, to admit women, while Pope Urban VIII was an important patron of creative women, among them the artists Virginia da Vezzo and Maddalena Corvini, and the architect Plautilla Bricci. Artemisia herself did not join the academy in Rome, perhaps because she did not stay in the city for long before departing for Venice, but in Venice, too, she had access to a cultural scene known for its outspoken women. Among them was Arcangela Tarabotti, who became famous for her attack on the enclosure of unwilling women in nunneries.
Besides the biblical subjects for which she is best known, Artemisia also took inspiration from classical sources. Although she had not been fully literate at the time of the rape
trial, by the 1620s she had learnt to write and was clearly familiar with high culture. Her painting of Corisca and the Satyr (c1635-37), in which a clever nymph evades an attempted seduction, has parallels with literary works by her female contemporaries. Like Yael and Judith, Corisca is an Artemisia heroine who uses trickery to outwit her opponent.
Honoured by kings
In 1630 Artemisia moved to Naples and there spent the remainder of her career, with the exception of a 1638 trip to London where her father was court painter to Charles I. Her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting was part of Charles's collection. By this time, as she wrote to Galileo, she had been "honoured by all the kings and rulers of Europe to whom I have sent my works".
She was not backward about asserting her talent directly. Hoping to obtain commissions from Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena, she sent a sample of work and a letter observing that: "I have served all the major rulers of Europe, who appreciate my work. . . it would provide the evidence of my fame... Therefore please forgive my daring but ambitiously honourable gesture."
In this later period, Artemisia's work included multiple female nudes, such as a Death of Cleopatra and paintings of David and Bathsheba. Always alert to the practicalities of running a business, she complained that obtaining suitable models for this work was "very expensive" and "a big headache". She added: "When I find good ones, they fleece me, and at other times, one must suffer [their] pettiness with the patience of Job." By this time, demand for her art outstripped the works she herself was supplying, and - as was common in the period - members of her workshop produced paintings labelled the work of 'Artemisia', even though her own
involvement may have been limited.
When it came to marketing, Artemisia was a tough negotiator. In 1649 she wrote to Don Antonio Ruffo, a prominent collector, refusing him a discount: "I was mortified to hear that you want to deduct one third... I cannot accept a reduction, both because of the value of the painting and of my great need." She was "displeased that for the second time I am being treated as a novice". In a subsequent letter she did not back down, writing that Ruffo would "find the spirit of Caesar in this soul of a woman". She had overcome the barriers to women entering the profession by training in her father's household, but was still conscious that she was at risk of inferior treatment because of her sex. on receiving a drawing from her, one patron had then hired a male artist to do the work. "If I were a man," she wrote, "I can't imagine it would have turned out this way."
Artemisia died in c1654, but it would be more than 300 years before her legacy truly came to light. Even then, it remained fashionable to emphasise the details of her private life at the expense of her professional work, whether in relation to her rape, or her affair with Maringhi. Both are easily sensationalised, but they often carry the sexist implication that the scandal matters more than Artemisia's artistic output. Of course, her gender made a difference to her work. But it's high time we stopped looking at Artemisia's art only through the lens of her personal life. We rarely do that with her male contemporaries - so why should we do so with her?
Catherine Fletcher; BBC History Magazine; April, 2020.
Catherine Fletcher is a historian of Renaissance and early modern Europe. Her latest book is The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the ltalian Renaissance (Bodley Head, 2020)
Per acquistare il documentario su Maria Maddalena, e altri bei documentari di Waldemar Januszczak, visitate ZCZ Films.
Per finire, potete sfogliare online o scaricare in Pdf tutte le 498 pagine!, a colori!, del catalogo della mostra Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy, tenutasi a Roma e a New York nel 2002. Cliccate sull'immagine in basso. Buon compleanno Artemisia!
Si avvicina l'Epifania ed ecco come Wikipedia la definisce:
L'Epifania è una festa cristiana celebrata il 6 gennaio (cioè dodici giorni dopo il Natale), che ricorda la visita dei re Magi a Gesù bambino. [...] Nella Chiesa cattolica è una delle massime solennità celebrate, assieme alla Pasqua, il Natale, la Pentecoste e l'Ascensione, ed è quindi istituita come festa di precetto (giorno in cui «i fedeli sono tenuti all'obbligo di partecipare alla Messa; si astengano inoltre, da quei lavori e da quegli affari che impediscono di rendere culto a Dio e turbano la letizia propria del giorno del Signore o il dovuto riposo della mente e del corpo.»
Quindi, spegnete il computer e andate a messa! In tema di re Magi, ecco, in alto, la bella copertina a collage di The Economist di questo mese che raffigura, oltre ad un Tony Blair santificato, alla Statua della Libertà, a un tacchino, cavallo e maialino, anche L'adorazione dei Magi di Gentile da Fabriano. La rivista dedica ai re Magi anche un articolo molto interessante di Ann Wroe che potete leggere qui o in basso, preceduto da un'intervista audio, sempre di The Economist, all'autrice dell'artcolo:
The rule of three: What those magical, royal wanderers through the desert really signify
Nell'articolo sui re Magi, Ann Wroe menziona Ravenna e ne approfittiamo per fare una piccola digressione per "visitare" la bellissima città di Ravenna che è poco conosciuta all'estero, ma che vale davvero la pena visitare. Ecco quindi una bella introduzione alla città tratta dal programma della SBS, Global Village, andato in onda nel 2011, e presentato dall'inimitabile Silvio Rivier:
Tornando alla copertina di The Economist, vogliamo soffermarci sulla tavola dipinta da Gentile da Fabriano, L'adorazione dei Magi, nota anche come la Pala Strozzi ("pala" in inglese significa "shovel" ma può significare anche "alterpiece", e Strozzi è il cognome del committente che si chiamava, guarda caso, Palla - doppia "l" – Strozzi). La pala è famosissima: la si vede riprodotta nei biglietti di auguri di Natale, su francobolli, su oggetti di cartoleria; è una delle grandi attrazioni della galleria degli Uffizi, dove è esposta; ed è uno dei grandi capolavori dello stile gotico internazionale "italiano". Ma che cos'è lo stile gotico internazionale? Ecco due brani – il primo tratto da Storia dell'Arte Italiana, di Bertelli, Briganti, e Giuliano; il secondo, da Art: The Whole Story, di Stephen Farthing – che ce lo spiegano (abbiamo messo in risalto le parti del testo che si riferiscono ai temi che verranno sviluppati in seguito):
Il dominio del gotico internazionale in tutta Europa
International Gothic emerged as a style of art in Europe at the end of the 14th century. It was characterized by strong narrative and courtly elegance, coupled with exact naturalistic detail, decorative refinement, surface realism and rich decorative colouring. The style was neglected by historians until the end of the 19th century, when Louis Courajod, a professor at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, first pointed out its international character – international because of the similarity between stylistic trends and techniques that appeared in geographically distant European centres. Artists from France, Italy, Austria, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and England developed an artistic style that intensified elements of the Gothic during its last flourish, and that became a prelude to the Early Renaissance.
Religious figures and scenes were the period's predominant subject matter. In the Annunciation (above) by Lorenzo Monaco (c. 1370 -1425), the painter's emotional intensity and subtlety of feeling are evident and the work displays a particularly graceful flow of line. These qualities also appear in his panels titled The Flight into Egypt (c. 1405) and The Coronation of the Virgin (1413). Some artists set themselves apart from their Gothic predecessors, however, by the close observation of nature and lavish craftsmanship that characterized their work. One of the period's most memorable paintings is the Wilton Diptych (below). This devotional masterpiece is an icon of Catholic heritage, yet the artist has never been identified – art historians cannot even agree on the artist's country of origin, such is the international nature of the style. The altarpiece was most likely commissioned by the English king, Richard II, whose coat of arms and white hart appear on the diptych's exterior. Hinged like a book so that it is portable for use in prayer, the interior shows the king being presented to the Virgin Mary.
The succession of wars and the terrible cost of the Hundred Years' War between England and France, that lasted from 1337 to 1453, dramatically changed the social and political landscape of Europe and further influenced the development of its art. The tapestry Offering of the Heart (below) expresses a nostalgia that members of the old order felt for the court's feudal values, outdated chivalry, extravagance and splendour. Economic crisis and civil strife had undermined the position of the aristocracy and produced an increasingly powerful and sizeable middle class of merchants and bankers. The tapestry is therefore an indirect expression of the struggle for power between them and the merchants. The bourgeoisie, meanwhile, were gaining increasing influence and were perhaps more attracted to some of the ruling class's venal excesses than to the courtly customs that sometimes masked them.
The elegance and emotional exaggeration of the International Gothic style combined with a new kind of humanism, which found its way into the artistic depiction of figures and themes. At the Castello della Manta in Saluzzo, Italy, a student of Giacomo Jaquerio (c. 1375-1455), known only as the 'Master of Manta', painted frescoes on the walls around the baronial hall, including the scene called 'The Fountain of Youth' (detail below). It shows elderly people entering the miraculous waters to be rejuvenated, and the work is full of lively detail and strong colours. The artist was one of many painters associated with the International Gothic who were highly sensitive to the sense of movement underlying the composition. Further examples of the International Gothic aesthetic are La Grande Pietà Ronde (c. 1400) by Jean Malouel (c. 1360-1415), which is characterized by intense emotion and a soft, dream-like pictorial quality, and The Road to Calvary (1440) by Jaquerio, a crowded canvas in which the sharp angles of innumerable spears suggest shared suffering, the scene realized with a religious intensity and remarkably elegant composition.
Pisanello (c. 1394-1455) was a very competent draughtsman and many of his works feature animals. The representation of animals, vegetables, architecture and artefacts within the decorative landscape is achieved with the same attention to detail and harmony as that given to the figures. In Madonna with the Quail (below), the quail at the Virgin's feet, the other birds, the leafy wreath and the fruits blend into an idealized portrait of the Madonna and Child.
The illumination of Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1413-89; see Winter below) by the Flemish Limbourg brothers (a.1402-16), completed after their deaths by Jean Colombe, is replete with animals, vegetables and wide landscapes, peopled by both aristocratic and peasant figures.
While the art of the past had represented the ideal with much recourse to imagery from the imagination, the International Gothic style produced a synthesis of the ideal – in the sense of a nostalgic looking back to the glory of the past – with a descriptive and detailed realism. The Adoration oj the Magi (below) by Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427) exemplifies the fusion of these two artistic impulses and represents the peak of the artistic movement. The altarpiece was painted for the Cappella Strozzi, in the Santa Trinita church in Florence (now the sacristy) and has a strong sense of narrative that is typical of International Gothic. The artist depicts the complete story of the adoration of the Magi as told in the Bible, with a vast array of lavishly attired figures. The larger figures in the foreground, nearest to the Madonna and Child, represent the chivalrous tradition of honour and servitude, and the more animated procession of knights and huntsmen, winding its way to a turreted castle in the distant hills in the background, includes more plebeian figures. Behind the youthful king in the centre is the Florentine banker Palla Strozzi, who is included in recognition of his commission of the work.
There is a notable aura of meditation and purpose in the most important works of the International Gothic style, even within the context of its close detail and occasional extravagance. Many of the miniatures were portable so that the viewer could easily use the work of art for private contemplation. The artistic aim was always to familiarize the viewer with the myriad details of the pictorial landscape and the individual characters of the figures. While fully appreciating the realistically presented figures in all their finery and glory, the viewer was at the same time exposed to the light and space that surrounded them-an experience designed to lift and expand the spirit.
Ancora due piccole digressioni: su YouTube abbiamo trovato un bellissimo documentario dedicato a Les Tres Riches Heures, dipinto dai fratelli Limbourg per il duca di Berry, menzionato nel brano sopra tratto da Art: The Whole Story – non c'entra nulla con l'Italia ma c'entra molto con il gotico internazionale; inoltre, vi proponiamo una "visita" al Castello del Buonconsiglio di Trento – un'altra bellissima città italiana situata nella regione del Trentino-Alto Adige (in giallo, nella cartina in basso), dalla forte impronta mitteleuropea, praticamente sconosciuta qui in Australia – in compagnia del grande Marco Hagge. Nel Castello del Buonconsiglio, c'è un ciclo di affreschi, il celebre Ciclo dei Mesi, in stile gotico internazionale, assolutamente straordinario e assolutamente da visitare:
Ritornando al discorso della Pala Strozzi, nel brano tratto da Storia dell'Arte Italiana, di Bertelli, Briganti, e Giuliano, che abbiamo riportato sopra, viene menzionato Giotto. Ma chi era Giotto? Per spiegarcelo, ecco un documentario assolutamente straordinario di Andrew Graham-Dixon, del 2007, The Art of Eternity. Il documentario è dedicato all'arte bizantina (abbiamo parlato di Bizanzio e dell'impero bizantino in un articolo di blog precedente dedicato a Venezia) ed è costituito di tre puntate. La puntata che ci interessa in modo particolare è la terza, When East Meets West, perché in questa puntata lo straordinario Andrew Graham-Dixon parla non soltanto di Giotto ma del ruolo fondamentale che il movimento francescano ebbe sull'arte figurativa italiana, ma vi proponiamo tutte e tre le puntate perché vale davvero la pena vedere tutta la serie – il signor Graham-Dixon esamina i mosaici di Ravenna nella seconda puntata. Inoltre vi proponiamo anche un documentario molto interessante, dedicato a Giotto, tratto dalla bella serie The Great Artists, di Tim Marlow.
At Italia 500 we've been offering Italian courses, in Sydney, since 1995 and one of the most beautiful aspects of learning Italian is that it opens the door to a culture of unrivalled richness and diversity. In this blog we'll be sharing some of our favourite books, movies, places in Italy to visit, music, links to podcasts, information about local and international Italian themed events, and the odd "personal" view, in the hope that it will encourage you to delve further into a culture which continues to inspire us and millions of people all over the world.