Art historian Sergio Benedetti said that Artemisia Gentileschi was “capable of producing female images of a living ardent sensuality without succumbing to facile vulgarity”, and I agree with him.
Susanna and the Elders (1610)
Gentileschi painted this while she was subject to the sexual harassment of Tassi and others in his studio. She presents Susanna as genuinely distressed by the Elders leering at her – male painters usually showed Susanna as a tease.
Lucretia (c. 1621)
Lucretia, a Roman woman, is said to have lived in the 500s BCE. When the (Etruscan) king’s son raped her, she killed herself to spare her husband and family dishonor (which is something that still happens today). These events were said to have sparked the revolution that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. Gentileschi chose to portray the moment just before she stabs herself (lifting up her breast to do so – I guess it would get in the way?), exercising what little control she has left.
Cleopatra (c. 1630)
The last pharaoh of Egypt was another woman who killed herself to avoid humiliation and punishment at the hands of men. Again, Gentileschi depicts the moment before the fatal puncture; this time, it’s a poisonous snake (which is really difficult to see). The two women actually look a lot alike: they are both solid and look upwards with a blend of determination and despair.
Bathsheba (c. 1636)
I was lucky enough to see this painting in person, and upon realizing it was Gentileschi’s, I promptly bawled my eyes out. I never expected to see a Gentileschi painting in the real world, especially one so large – it’s over eight feet tall! She shows Bathsheba bathing with the help of her servants, while King David gazes lustfully from afar. (Happy times were to follow this, for sure!) Bathsheba isn’t posing, and it would be hard to say that this painting was meant for titillation.