Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery.

The National Gallery has opened an exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi in their more prestigious Exhibition Rooms in the Sainsbury Wings which must be seen and remains the talk of the town. This is unusual because – as one of the first female Artists from the beginning of the Renaissance to the 17C AD –  famous in her lifetime as we read in the contemporary writings – she was hardly known from the 18th century onwards. What prompted her present discovery?

Hardly discussed by the Curators of the present Exhibition which just presents her as one of the greatest baroque European artists ??? – contemporary of Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Annibale Carracci, Guercino etc – is not credible; but she is a good and interesting artist to be seen in context. This is what makes her particularly interesting.

A programme shown on Monday 26 October at 9 pm on BBC Four “Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia” is well worth listening and looking at –  it was for me a masterpiece which sets the record – and what a record – straight! It can be seen on the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

A girl brought up in Rome – 1593 -1656? – Naples – daughter of Orazio Gentileschi an early Baroque artist – orphaned by her Mother aged 12, had to run the house in which they lived with her three younger brothers. By the age of 15 Orazio started teaching her also to paint since she was the most endowed of the 4 children and by 1610 – aged 17 – she painted a most telling picture:

‘Susannah and the Elders”, oil on canvas, signed and dated, Art Gallery of Pommersfelden.

What sadly made her famous was the fact that a few months later a new painter associated to Orazio’s Workshop, Agostino Tassi, raped her in her Father’s House above the studio – ruining her possibility of a proper life since, having promised it, he could not marry her: he was already married. When the father learnt about the rape he decided to go public and started a legal case against Agostino which they won. It sounds like a real thriller well worth following! 

I recommend visiting the exhibition and from time to time I will present one of Artemisia’s paintings and discuss it!

This is the first of a new series of exhibition reviews for Letts Art by Rosa Maria Letts.