23 October 2020

Praise for Artemisia Gentileschi Exhibition

National Gallery’s first major show since covid-19 struck gets rave reviews

THE FIRST MAJOR exhibition at London’s National Gallery since covid-19 struck in March 2020 has opened to five-star reviews from the Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian, the Evening Standard and the BBC.

Artemisia consists of 30 works by the Italian baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654), along with the artist’s letters, discovered in 2011 and described by Jackie Wullschläger in the Financial Times as “passionate, arrogant, manipulative.” Not only is it the first survey of the artist’s career to be seen in the United Kingdom, it is also, says the Guardian, “the first time in its 200-year history [that the National Gallery] has devoted a full-scale exhibition to a female old master.”

Gentileschi’s father, Orazio, was also an artist and had been a court painter for Charles I of England. Artemisia, as a child growing up in Rome, had mixed paints for her father and by 17 had completed her first work, Susanna and the Elders (1610), showing a bathing woman rejecting the advances of two men. A decade later she had become an extremely sought-after artist, with a “house full of cardinals and princes wanting pictures from her,” says the National Gallery website. She would ultimately have a career spanning more than 40 years, during which she painted for six royal courts, including two years spent in England, invited by Charles I.

Gentileschi’s style was heavily influenced by Caravaggio, a friend of her father’s. Like Caravaggio, she painted Judith Beheading Holofernes. In the biblical story, Judith saves Jerusalem by cutting off the head of the Assyrian general who meant to destroy it. In Gentileschi’s hands, notes the BBC’s arts editor, Will Gompertz, “it is a piece of revenge art, according to many commentators.” The payback is for Gentileschi’s rape at 17 by a friend of her father’s. (Her father, outraged, had his daughter’s attacker charged. The 400-page trial transcript is also part of the exhibition. The accused, Agostini Tassi, was convicted, but never punished.) Her two versions of the painting “do not spare any of the gory details,” says Gompertz. “Blood gushes as the artist captures the most horrific moment.”

Not all of Gentileschi’s work is quite so visceral, but it is, says Wullschläger, an oeuvre of “potent paintings of female fury, fear, ecstasy, pride, bewilderment and cunning.” For Gompertz, “Artemisia Gentileschi was a uniquely gifted artist who should be considered among the all-time greatest painters.”

The show runs from 3 October 2020 to 24 January 2021. It was originally scheduled for 4 April-26 July 2020. In addition to the displayed works the National Gallery has put together an extensive online component. It includes a one-hour conversation with Michael Palin on 23 October on “the quest for Artemisia.”



For more information on Artemisia visit the National Gallery website at www.nationalgallery.org.uk.