Artist profile: Artemisia Gentileschi – Domestic

Every month, I profile an artist who inspires my own art,
in several segments.

My last post about Artemisia Gentileschi features three rather low-key paintings compared to her other violent and/or nude artworks.

Madonna and Child (c. 1609)
A mother offering her breast to her child has been a popular image since Ancient Egyptian times; early Christian artists looked to statues of Isis nursing Horus for inspiration. Having Baby (or Toddler-ish) Jesus reach up to touch Mary’s face is a nice way of making them seem more human and accessible to the average person. It’s been disputed which of these artworks was Gentileschi’s very first painting by herself, so I included both, since both are pretty; although the second looks a bit severe for Gentileschi. Whichever came first, she painted it when she was sixteen.

Woman Playing a Lute/Saint Cecilia (c.1610-12)
There is no concrete evidence this is meant to portray St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, but the painting is often called “Saint Cecilia”. Gentilischi painted this in her late teens. She was influenced in subject by her father’s paintings of musical women but influenced in style by Caravaggio, who always emphasized the contrast between light and dark. Look at the painting up close to see the details on her dress and the perfectly-straight strings on the lute.

The Birth of St. John The Baptist (1635)
Finally, we have Baby John the Baptist getting bathed by servants while his mom recovers and his father is… writing a note? Maybe “Check it out, my kid is never gonna wear normal clothes LOL.” The composition of the painting is pretty typical, with the baby-group in the spotlight, the mom-group to the side, and even a little Roman architecture to the right.

Although starting this series about Artemisia Gentileschi was difficult, I ended up learning a lot about her and I’m certainly glad I stuck with it. I admire her a great deal – succeeding as a female painter in the 1600s was a feat in itself, let alone after the trauma of rape, the trauma of a trial, having children, and being married to a gambler.

I’m deeply indebted to the website The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi, which takes you on a chronological tour of the artist’s paintings and the events of her life.

Other parts in the Artemisia Gentileschi artist profile series
Powerful women


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