LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 35


Maria Shevchenko

Formazione della Nazionale italiana del 1975

Gentileschi’s paintings can often be viewed as reflections of her personal traumas, as we see in this very symbolic piece. Purchased in 2018 for £3.6 million by the National Gallery, it is one of several paintings of female protagonists that she made after her rape trial. With such a tight crop of a self-portrait, we can’t help but notice the allegorical details in Artemisia’s piece. The artist depicts herself as Saint Catherine the Great, a 4th century martyr who is considered the patron of philosophers and scholars. A vision of the Madonna and Child persuaded her to become a Christian. Sentenced to death by the emperor Maxentius, Catherine was bound to revolving wheels studded with iron spikes. Saved through divine intervention, she was later beheaded, but the instrument of her torture – a broken wheel – became her common attribute in art. Artemisia depicts Saint Catherine as determined and empowered after her divine rescue. Intertwining such a pertinent historical figure into a self-portrait has not only allowed the artist to create a sense of recognition and promotion amongst her contemporaries, but also forces the viewers of then and today to acknowledge her power and strength through the medium of painting. Gentileschi gives an insight into the complexities of womanhood in this portrait: there is a notion of sensitivity to her painting, with the almost tangible clothing and the softness of her skin and veil. She has incorporated sculptural qualities into the figure’s body language and stance. This deeply contrasts with the sharp triangular edges of the wheel and crown, which represent a powerful transcendence.

Long seen as a victim, I believe that the Early Modern European painter rather used her experience to become a protagonist of resilient women – a true feminist two centuries before the term feminism was even coined. Art historian Richard Mann sees Artemisia ‘more as a champion of strong women rather than a woman obsessed with violence and revenge’. One could even argue that through the legacy Gentileschi has left us today, we should promote the artist as a household name. She protested through painting; from weakness she created a power; her image has become a voice, pertinent to today’s societal inequalities. During her relocation to Florence, Artemisia learnt to read and write (she had been described as illiterate during the infamous trial) and, most significantly, she became the first woman to become a member of the Academy of the Drawing Arts in Florence. She was well-known amongst her contemporaries and enjoyed the patronage of Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1627, she then received a commission from King Philip IV of Spain. Gentileschi also befriended many artists, writers and thinkers of her time, including the celebrated astronomer Galileo. Her heritage resonates with modern campaigns, like the “MeToo” movement, as Gentileschi took a stand against injustice, no matter the torturous experiences she had.

Photo from National Gallery