Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1651) is today considered one of the most accomplished Early Baroque painters in the generation influenced by Caravaggio (the "Caravaggisti"). Remarkably, in an era when women painters were not easily accepted, she became the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia dell' Arte del Disegno in Florence. She was also the first female artist to paint history and religious paintings, at a time when such heroic themes were considered beyond a mere woman's reach.
Born in Rome, she was the eldest daughter of painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639). Artemisia was tutored in art by her father from a young age and at age 17, she produced her first dated and signed work “Susanna and The Elders”. At age 19, when she was denied access to the all-male professional academies for art, her father hired Agostino Tassi to tutor her privately.
In 1612, Artemisia was raped by Tassi, and even though Tassi initially promised to marry Artemisia in order to restore her reputation, he later reneged on his promise. Artemisia’s father sued Tassi for rape. In the ensuing seven-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had allegedly planned to murder his wife, had committed incest with his sister-in-law and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial Artemisia was given gynecological examination and was tortured to corroborate her allegation. At the end of the trial Tassi was imprisoned for one year.
After the trial, Artemisia married Pietro Antonio Stiattesi and moved to Florence in 1613. She received a commission for a painting at Casa Buonarroti and became a successful court painter, enjoying the patronage of the Medici and Charles I. She returned to Rome briefly in 1621 but eventually moved to Naples, where she spent the remainder of her life. She gave birth to five children, only one of whom, a daughter, lived to adulthood. After her death in 1651, she slipped into obscurity.
Many of Artemisia's work exhibit dark and violent themes, in particular her painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes. The darkness and graphic violence of her paintings are attributed to her rape and the subsequent humiliating trial. Her paintings often express the point of view of the female protagonist, and her style of painting is very much influenced by Caravaggio.