The great Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome on July 8th, 1593. The eldest child of the Pisan painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) and Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni, she was baptised, two days after her birth, in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina.
Artemisia was taught how to paint by her father and in 1610, aged only 17, she painted Susanna and the Elders, an astonishingly accomplished work for one so young.
A year later she started taking lessons from a friend and colleague of her father, Agostino Tassi (1578-1644). This turned out to have horrific consequences for the young artist, who was raped by her new teacher in her bedroom. Nine months later, Tassi appeared in court, not on a charge of rape, but for reneging on his alleged promise to marry Artemisia.
The teenager's trauma was compounded by a seven-month-long public trial during which she had to undergo torture to ensure that she was telling the truth. This involved having metal rings attached to her fingers. The rings were then slowly tightened. 'This is the ring....that you promised me', she shouted across the courtroom to Tassi!
Tassi was found guilty of rape and imprisoned for two years. However, the verdict was later annulled and he was set free after a year. As for Artemisia, she was rushed into a marriage with a cash-strapped Florentine artist, Pierantonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi. In 1613 the newly-weds went to live in Florence, where, two years later, she became the first woman to be admitted to the city's prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno.
At a time when women artists were mostly limited to portraiture and still lifes, Artemisia became famous for her grand-scale works, depicting biblical or mythological heroines.
In 1620 she returned to Rome with her husband (and her lover). She would later live in Venice, London and Naples, where she died. The date of her death is unknown; it is thought she died in 1654, or later. She was buried in the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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