One of my favorite classes this semester is Art History 102. It covers the early Renaissance up through the early 1900s. We get to study all the big, important guys like Donatello, DaVinci, Michelanglo, Raphael (and other assorted teenage mutant ninja turtles) as well as some pretty cool architechts like Alberti and Bramonte. One of the things sadly lacking, as I expected, is any discussion of female artists. Not a big surprise, really. During the period we're concentrating on women couldn't go outside without an escort, they couldn't own property in most places and were routinely sold into marriage for a few acres of good grazing land. They certainly could not attend any schools, much less look at the male nude form in order to study classical technique. I always found it interesting that there are hardly any female painters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but there sure are a lot of pictures of nude women on the walls. Typical.
So I was thrilled that we got to briefly discuss the work of Atemisia Gentileschi in class last week. Because of the restrictions placed on women, what female artists there were at the time mostly painted portraits and landscapes. They certainly weren't getting any of the big commissions from mama church or the local aristocracy. Artemisia was an incredibly talented painter who was the first female artist to paint major religious and historical scenarios.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, her life was not without troubles. Her father, a successful artist, recognized her precocious genius and sent her to study with an artist named Agosino Tassi. Tassi took advantage of the situation and raped her. There was a long, highly publicized trial that lasted for seven months around the time Artemisia was 18 or so. She was subjected to vaginal examination, torture with thumbscrews and accused publicly of being unchaste. Tassi was eventually sentenced to banishment from Rome, but due to his powerful relationships within the local government, he was back in town within four months.
Some people believe that Artemisia used her art to cathartically and symbolically work through the pain. Just take a look at these for example.
Birth of St. John The Baptist - quite the cozy, domestic scene isn't it? I love how the birth is dominated by (gasp!) women who traditionally controlled birthings. Not sure who the old guy is on the right though.