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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The gay and lesbian art of Italy: Artemisia Gentileschi

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Whenever you are able to travel to Italy, and your trip includes Florence or Naples, consider to visit the Palatine Gallery  at Pitti Palace in Florence and the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

Beyond the fame of these two main “art pots” for the huge and extremely important collections (Renaissance painting in the former; classical Neapolitan art ceramics and painting in the latter), the visit is worthy to meet Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman in Renaissance who was able to stand up as an amazing lesbian painter in a society dominated by men.

Artemisia Gentileschi is considered as a historical example of women’s rights assessment and defense. She was daughter to a well-known painter and used to attend her father’s “bottega“. She was also a beautiful girl, who was raped by a family’s friend, the artist Agostino Tassi. He promised to marry her, to compensate his rape, but this never happened, as he was already married. Artemisia decided to bring him to court, which was a big challenge at those times, when women were usually considered guilty and not victims, in case of rape. She was also tortured as she openly accused his rapist. Artemisia finally won the trial, but the humiliation she underwent, led her to leave Naples for Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi was an amazing painter and she is considered one of the first lesbian artists in history. A strong influence has been played by Caravaggio’s study of light which headlines her major works, such as “Susanna ed I Vecchioni” (“Susanna and the Old Men“) date 1610, in which Artemisia’s outrage against old men’s lavish attention breaks out.

Judith who beheads Holofernes“, at Capodimonte Museum, was depicted between 1612 and 1613 and clearly shows Artemisia’s feeling towards her rapist. Another painting, “Judith and her Handmaid” seems to continue the history of “Judith who beheads Holofernes“: here, the two women are hiding Holofernes’ head, but someone or something seems to distract them. This painting is at the Palatine Gallery in Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi has been designated as the greatest expression of Renaissance art in female hands. She has inspired a huge number of gay and lesbian artists, as a trailblazer in her fight for dignity, despite gender barriers and rape.

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