#Book Review – Artemisia Gentileschi; S. Barker

Artemisia Gentileschi is a new name for me, sort of. I know I didn’t study her paintings when I was in high school, and that I found out about her a few years ago, thanks to a Tumblr post. I’m sure I have it saved somewhere because it was interesting: it talked about Susanna and the Elders, about how the original drawing was more vivid, harsher.

Now I can’t remember if the last version was painted over the previous one or what, but I studied the composition for a while. Gentileschi sense of movement—of life?—is impressive. 

**

The life of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–after 1654) was as exceptional as her paintings. She was a child prodigy, raised without a mother by her artist father, a follower of Caravaggio. Although she learned to paint under her father, she became an artist against his wishes. Later, as she moved between Florence, Rome, Venice, Naples, and London, her artistic style evolved, but throughout her career she specialized in large-scale, powerful, nuanced portrayals of women. This book highlights Gentileschi’s enterprising and original engagement with emerging feminist notions of the value and dignity of womanhood.
 
Sheila Barker’s cutting-edge scholarship in Artemisia Gentileschi clears a pathway for all audiences to appreciate the artist’s pictorial intelligence, as well as her achievement of a remarkably lucrative and high-profile career at a time when few women were artists. Bringing to light newly attributed paintings and archival discoveries, this is the first biography to be written by an authority on Gentileschi since 1999.
 
The volume is beautifully illustrated, and Barker weaves this extraordinary story with in-depth discussions of key artworks, such as Susanna and the Elders (1610), Judith Beheading Holofernes (c.1619–20), and Lot and His Daughters (1640–45). Also included is the J. Paul Getty Museum’s recent acquisition, Lucretia (c.1635–45). Through such works, Barker explores the evolution of Gentileschi’s expressive goals and techniques.

144 pages
Biography, nonfiction
Getty Publishing
Goodreads

**

Cover: Oh. Hm. Good painting choice, but the left stripe ruins it. A different font and a different color, sans stripe, would have worked better. 

Yay!

  • As I mentioned above, Gentileschi’s works haven’t been that widespread in the past, at least in my neck of the woods. Being able to read her biography is a gift, even more so because it’s a good one: well-researched, full of details, and not focusing on the grim aspects of her life. It would have been easy to go for the shock value of her assault, something Barker steered clear of. Thank you.
  • There’s an ample choice of paintings, going from the most famous ones to the lesser known. As always, it’s hard to admire art on a screen, but the pictures look crisp and taken with an eye for details. 
  • Engaging prose, mixing both Gentileschi’s life and other painters’—same with their works. I will not lie, I’m in two minds about it. However, Barker makes it easier for us to compare Gentileschi’s style with different ones. 
  • Gentileschi’s best feature is her sense of movement, something Barker highlights. Her paintings aren’t static; rather, they look like snapshots, taken in the middle of action. The fact that her talent is being recognized worldwide puts an emphasis on it: you thought Caravaggio was the master of movement? He has to share the title with Gentileschi, sorry.
  • I like mistake-free books! I always want to high-five my fellow editors when they do a good job—it’s important.

Special mention:

  • Allegory of Inclination
  • Judith Beheading Holofernes (the sense of movement and the fact Gentileschi didn’t pull any punches render this one astounding)
  • Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (I never saw this painting before)
  • Susanna and the Elders
  • Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting

Nay!

  • I’m not sure about having other artists featured in the book. While I can understand and, to a point, appreciate that choice, Artemisia Gentileschi is a book about Gentileschi. She didn’t live in a bubble, but the spotlight should be hers.

TL;DR


4 stars on GR.

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