Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rondel.

Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naughty see i fixed or sure in thee!
I do not know thee, - nor what deeds are thine :
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I fixed or sure in thee!

Shall I be mute, or vows with prayers combine?
Ye who are blessed in loving, tell it me :
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I permanent or sure in thee!

Loss And Gain

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have
gained,
What I have missed with what
attained,
Little room do i find for pride.

I am a ware
How many days have been idly
spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned
aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this
wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the
tide.

The Artist.

Nothing the greatest artist can conceive
That every marble block doth not confine
within itself; and only its design
The hand that follows intellect can achieve.
the ill I flee, the good that I believe,
Thus hidden lie; and so that death be mine
Art, of desired success, doth me bereave.
Love is not guilty, then, nor thy fair face,
Nor fortune, cruelty, nor great disdain,
Of my disgrace, nor chance, nor destiny,
If in thy heart both death and love find place
At the same time, and if my humble brain,
Burning, can nothing draw but death from thee.

Silent Love.

Who love would seek,
Let him love evermore
And seldom speak:
For in love's domain
Silence must reign;
or it bring the heart
Smart
And pain.

The Broken Oar

Once upon Iceland's solitary strands
A poet wandered with his book and pen,
Seeking some final word, some sweet Amen,
Wherewith to close the volume in his hand.
The billows rolled and plunged upon the sand,
The circling sea-gulls swept beyond his ken,
And from the parting cloud-rack now and then
Flashed the red sunset over sea and land.
Then by the billows at his feet was tossed
A broken oar; and carved thereon he read,
'Oft was I weary, when I toiled at thee';
And like a man, who findeth what was lost,
He wrote the words, then lifted up his head,
And flung his useless pen into the sea.

The Meeting

After so long an absence
At last we meet again :
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet's two or three
berries
In the top of the uppermost
bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not
say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the
guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

The Image Of God

O Lord! who seest, from yon starry height,
Centred in one the future and the past,
Fashioned in thine own image,
see how fast
The world obscures in me what once was bright!
Eternal Sun! the warmth with thou hast given,
To cheer life's flowery April, fast
decays;
Yet, in the hoary winter of my
days,
For ever green shall be my trust
in Heaven.
Celestial King! O let thy presence
pass
Before my spirit, and an image
fair
Shall meet that look of mercy
from on high,
As the reflected image in a glass
Doth meet the look of him who
seeks it there,
And owes its being to the gazer's
eye.

Dedication

Nothing that is shall perish utterly,
But perish only to revive again
In other forms, as clouds restore in rain
The exhalations of the land and sea.
Men build their houses from the masonry
Of ruined tombs; the passion and the pain
Of hearts, that long have ceased to beat, remain
To throb in hearts that are, or are to be.
So from old chronicles, where sleep in dust
Names that once filled the world with trumpet tones,
I build this verse; and flowers of song have thrust
Their roots among the loose disjointed stones,
Which to this end I fashion as I must.
Quickened are they that touch the Prophet's bones.

Memories

OFT I remember those whom I have known
In other days, to whom my heart was led
As by a magnet, and who are not dead,
But absent, and their memories overgrown
With other thoughts and troubles of my own,
As graves with grasses are, and at their head
The stone with moss and lichens so o'er spread,
Nothing is legible but the name alone.
And is it so with them? After long years,
Do they remember me in the same way,
And is the memory pleasant as to me?
I fear to ask; yet wherefore are my fears?
Pleasures, like flowers, may wither and decay,
And yet the root perennial may be.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Nature of Love

To noble heart Love doth for shelter fly,
As seeks the bird the forest's leafy shade;
Love was not felt till noble heart beat high,
Nor before love the noble heart was made.
Soon as the sun's broad flame
Was formed, so soon the clear light filled the air;
Yet was not till he came;
So love springs up in noble breasts,
and there
Has its appointed space,
As heat in the bright flame finds its allotted place.
Kindles in noble heart the fire of love,
As hidden virtue in the precious
stone:
This virtue comes not from the stars above,
Till round it the ennobling sun has shone;
But when his powerful blaze
Has drawn forth what was vile, the stars impart
Strange virtue in their rays:
And thus when Nature doth create the heart
Noble and pure and high,
Like virtue from the star, love
comes from woman's eye.

My Secret

My soul its secret hath,my life too hath its mystery,
A love eternal in a moment's space conceived;
Hopeless the evil is, I have not told its history,
And she who was the cause nor knew it nor believed.
Alas ! I shall have passed close by her unperceived,
For ever at her side and yet for ever lonely,
I shall unto the end have made life's journey, only
daring to ask for naught and having naught received.

For her, though God hath made her gentle and endearing,
She will go on her way distraught
and without hearing
These murmurings of love that round her steps ascend,
Piously faithful still unto her austere duty,
Will say, when she shall read these
lines full of her beauty,
' Who can this woman be ?' and will not comprehend.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Creating Life

As one of the most fundamental of all human processes birth itself has no need of any particular religious frame work to give it an aura of the sacred. This expresses itself in many forms- very seriously in the Neolithic seated goddess in the process of giving birth found at Catal Huyuk, near the modern Konya in Turkey, during a series of excavations in the early 1960's; ironically in the modern environmental sculpture Hon, created in 1965 by Niki de Saint-Phalle (b.1930) for an exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The Catal Huyuk figure has been described by some authorities as being one of the earliest pieces of firm evidence for an organized system of religious belief. Radiocarbon testing places it between 6500 and 5800 BC.
 Hon was a 26m- (85ft-) long reclining female figure which contained various compartments or rooms. The artist's conceit was that the public entered the sculpture via her vagina - thus re-entering the womb - and exited by the same route - thus symbolically acknowledging her as their mother. Inside the sculpture were various rooms - one, directly within her breasts, contained a milk-bar. Hon was both a nice joke and, simply because of her scale and assertiveness, a clear declaration of new female power in the arts. It is not surprising that the figure has been co-opted as a feminist emblem, though it was not originally intended that it should perform this function. 
     The most extensive artistic exploration of the artistic and spiritual significance of birth is Judy Chicago's The Birth Project, which dates from 1980 to 1985. Birth Tear/Tear, illustrated, is a statement not about the mystery of birth but about its violence - what it does to the female body. It can be compared to the more literal representation of the same trauma by Jonathan Waller. Chicago chose a generically ' gentle', feminine way of representing this violent act- silk embroidery on top of her own line drawing made on silk. Yet the nature of the materials is contradicted by the swirling lines of force; reminiscent of the work of Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944).  

Mother Love

The bond between a mother and her child has also been represented in a multitude of different ways that do not involve the image of an infant suckling at the breast. In the eighteenth century, Marguerite Gerard (1761 - 1837), sister-in-law of Jean Honore Fragonard ( 1732 - 1806), with whom she frequently collaborated, made it the pretext for painting a charming domestic scene. Gerard's work has recently been the subject of some controversy. Far from being perceived simply as a producer of slightly over sweet domestic scenes - The Child's First Steps is a typical example - she has been seen as someone who implicitly criticizes the fetishization of domesticity. Her sweetness and preciosity of touch are recontextualized in this new interpretation as the products of a concealed critical and satirical impulse. Appreciation of Gerard's art quality has been hampered by the link between her work and that of a more celebrated male artist. Art historians spend more time looking for Fragonard's contribution than they do examining what Gerard herself had to say.

    Very different facts of the same emotional nexus can be found in the work of two twentieth-century artist, the Canadian Emily Carr ( 1871 - 1945 ) and the Maori painter Robyn Kahukiwa (b.1940). Carr's Totem Mother, Kitwancool is inspired by Northwest Coast Native American art - specifically by a totem-pole figure found in a remote tribal village. Carr broadened the figure and exaggerated the massiveness of the head to make a greater contrast with the small infant. She was not trying to make a record of something she had seen , but instead of this to create something that would radiate a feeling of omnipotent power.
 
   Kahukiwa deals with material that is hers by direct inheritance, but tackles it in a new way. Of the paintings Papae / Threshold  1 & 2 and Whanau /Born, the artist says:

  ' They are about the actual time of birth and passing through the threshold into the world of light. The women refer to the carved ancestor figures of a [ Maori ] meeting house. They are shown in the squatting position taken by women in labour in traditional times. All three women are giving birth on papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, to symbolize the close relationship of the Maori with the land.' 

   Because she is a women, Kahukiwa is excluded from the traditional Maori way of making art, which is woodcarving. Like a number of other Maori women artists, she has therefore turned to oil painting - a European skill.
   The mother-and-child  theme is in fact subject to an almost infinite number of variations, and versions of it can be found throughout the history of European art. One of its roots is in the art of ancient Egypt, as can be seen from the elegant statuette of the goddess Isis and her infant son Horus illustrated here. This provides an obvious prototype for the seated Madonnas of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and still later periods. The potency of the image means that it can be stretched in any number of different directions, while still remaining immediately legible. There is a huge stylistic gulf, for example, between the mother and child by Berthe Morisot (1841 - 95 ) - a representation not only of maternal love but also of the bourgeois milieu in which French Impressionism flourished - and the abstracted forms of the Mother and Child sculpture by Barbara Hepworth (1903 - 75). But the message conveyed is very similar. In fact, we would not be able to construe the subject of the Hepworth as easily as we do, if we did not have this long heritage of mother-and-child images available to support our teaching of it. 
     The Christian religion endowed the image of the mother holding her infant with tragic overtones peculiar to itself. Standard Madonna compositions frequently include allusions to the Passion and the tragic fate that awaits the child who now rests  in his mother's arms. These implications are more fully worked out in another standard Christians image, that of the Pieta, in which the dead body of Christ, newly taken down from the Cross, is shown resting in his mother's lap. 
    The most famous version of the Pieta is undoubtedly the one created by Michel Angelo ( 1475 - 1564) for St. Peter's in Rome. Working to commission for a French cardinal then living in Rome, Michel Angelo took a poetic conception already rather awkwardly expressed in visual terms in northern Gothic art and tried to make it conform to the rational ideals of the Renaissance without losing any of its intrinsic emotional force. In order to do so he made many subtle adjustments. Few spectators notice, for example, that the Madonna, who has the face of a young girl, not a mature woman, is actually massive in proportion to the male body she holds in her lap. The mother and the force of love she represents thus triumph over the son's tragic fate, and an image of tragedy also becomes one of hope. 
      Like all great visual inventions, the formula Michel Angelo evolved for the Pieta has enjoyed a long subsequent career. Traces of its influence can even reasonably be found in a recent powerful image created by the African-American photographer Renee Cox ( b. 1958), though the figure of the mother is standing not seated, and though her child remains unequivocally a child. When Cox's photograph was shown as part of the 1996 'Sexual Politics' exhibition in Los Angeles, visitors to the show (as one of the attendants told me) immediately sensed the link with Michel Angelo's sculpture, despite the wide historical and cultured gap.
      Yo Mama is, despite some obvious parallels with the Pieta, primarily an image of an individual mother with an individual mother with an individual child. The mother's proud but slightly defensive stance and the child's expression suggest other possible meanings as well - for example, there may be a suggestion that we ought to remember the way in which slave mothers were often forcibly separated from their children. It is thus an extremely potent image for African-Americans.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

At The Breast

Representations of infants at the breast did enjoy an established place in Christian iconography, as a standard way of representing the Virgin and her Son. They were especially popular towards the end of the Middle Ages. One of the best-known examples is Jean Fouquet's Virgin and Child. Fouquet (c.1420-c.1481) executed the painting for the Chancellor of Charles VII of France, Etienne Chevallier. The other panel of what was originally a diptych, though the two halves are now separated, is a portrait, an unmistakable likeness of the beautiful Agnes Sorel, mistress of the then-ageing King who had once been the patron of Joan of Arc. She is represented richly dressed, wearing a sumptuous crown over the shaven forehead fashionable at the time. 
  The signals that the image sends out are distinctly mixed. on the one hand it is a devotional image of a kind already familiar to its intended audience. on the other, it seems intent on emphasizing the erotic impact made by Agnes beauty, and perhaps also on asserting her aspirations to quasi-royal status. Perhaps for these reasons the exposed breast has a somewhat voyeuristic effect. 
  A painting of the same subject, a mother breast-feeding her child, by the German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876 - 1907), has much greater directness and simplicity of feeling. Her image of a mother feeding her child is painted strictly for its own sake, which no religious, cultural or even social overtones, though critics have detected some similarities between Modersohn-Becker's work and that of her contemporary Kathe Kollwitz. Similar scene, encountered somewhat earlier in her career, Modersoh-Beckers noted in her diary:

      ' I sketched a young mother with her child at her breast, sitting in a smoky hut. If only i could someday paint what i felt then! A sweet woman, an image of charity. She was nursing her big, year-old bambino, when with defiant eyes her four-year-old daughter snatched for her breast until she was given it. And the woman gave her life and her youth and her power to the child in utter simplicity, unaware that she was a herione.'

Modersohn-Becker was herself to give her life for a child. She died of an embolism, shortly after giving birth to a daughter.
 Few comparisons between Modersohn-Becker and other artist are really fruitful, however, since she was an artist of great originality, who pursued an essential solitary path. Prolonged period of study in France, which brought her into contact with the work of the turn of he century Nabis and that of Gauguin, taught her chiefly to see painting not as literal representation but as a reflection of the emotion that the act of looking aroused in her. In this, she was a forerunner of German Expressionism, although not formally associated with it. Her early death deprived the twentieth century of what may well have been its greatest woman artist. 

The Moment of Birth

Images of women actually giving birth, though they do not commonly occur in Western culture, can be found in other contexts. Some of the most striking can be found in pre-Columbian art. The Sculptures and ceramics showing women in the throes of delivering children are clearly linked to complex fertility cults. The Aztecs of Central Mexico, for example, inherited a large pantheon of fertility gods and goddesses from the tribes who preceded them on the plateau. They included a number of earth goddesses, often imperfectly of both the soil and women. In This context it is not surprising to find a range of forthright birth images. 

" ... in almost all cultures, pregnancy, birth, and nursing are interpreted both both sexes as handicapping experiences; as a consequence women have been made to feel that by virtue of their biological functions they have been biologically, naturally, placed in an inferior position to men.' Ashley Montagu, 1952.

By contrast, similar images are most often lacking in traditional Western art- the nearest Christian art gets to this theme is probably in representations of the birth of the Virgin, and in these the baby is already safely delivered and is being washed or wrapped in its swaddling bands by the mother's attendants. 
 Recently, perhaps because of the increasing tendency for fathers to be present at the births of their children, the image has become less taboo. The English painter Jonathan Waller(b.1956), for example, has recently produced a long series of extremely realistic images showing women giving birth. Having produced them, he nevertheless encountered a good deal of difficulty in getting them exhibited. The continuing squeamishness of the contemporary audience when confronted with this range of imagery has something to tell us concerning modern society in general. We live in a world where images of the female nude are more and more freely distributed, and where the ban on representations of actual copulation is frequently disregarded. But the logical consequence of copulation, which is the creation of new life, is still a subject which museums tend not to exhibit and which some spectators find it difficult to look at. The societies we call 'primitive' are consistently franker in their representation of the whole sexual cycle. For them birth is an act whose sacredness cannot be denied, though they also frequently believe that the woman who is in the process of giving birth, or who has just given birth, is in some way ritually unclean. They also, to our eyes rather amusingly, in some cases evolve rituals where men take over the woman's pain. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fertility / Infertility

It is natural that representations of pregnant women or of women giving birth should concentrate on the notion of fertility. One can find other images as well. The Mexican photographer Marta Maria Perez Bravo (b.1959) offers a disturbing self-portrait-she is shown threatening her own pregnant belly with a knife. The inscription implies that she does not wish to be reduced to the level of an animal. 
Frida Kahlo (1907- 54), unique in this as in this as in this as in so many other respects, made paintings about her own inability to give birth. Kahol's failure to have children was intimately linked to her whole career as an artist. In 1925, still in her teens, kahlo was involved in a serious bus accident. The injuries she sustained affected her health for the rest of her career and meant that she had to undergo numerous painful operations. It was during her long convalescence from this accident that she first started to paint. Largely self-taught, kahlo based her style on Mexican folk paintings, notably on the retablos dedicated in churches, usually in thanksgiving for the dedicator's recovery from an illness or his or her escape from some other form of danger. Kahlo found in the naive, very direct style of these paintings a vehicle for describing the vicissitudes of her own life. Major themes were her self-identification with Mexican culture and the Mexican people, her stormy marriage to the leading Mexican muralist Diego Rivera( 1886- 1957) and, linked to this, her own inability to carry a child to full term - one of the long-term consequences of her terrible accident. Kahlo's anguish over her miscarriages reflected a sense of incompleteness as a woman which, in turn, was linked in her mind to Rivera's compulsive infidelity. A child would not only make her in her own eyes biologically complete but would also, she thought, make her husband less inclined to stray. 
 What is striking about Kahlo's art is its ability to deal with these especially painful and intimate concerns without the slightest circumlocution. No male artist of her time was able to speak about such matters. It is this ability to go straight to the point and to convey so clearly the extent of her suffering that has created her worldwide posthumous reputation. Diego Rivera, to his credit, always praised his wife's art, but even he might be astonished to see the extent to which her posthumous reputation has tended to surpass his own.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Maturity (Expecting)



One of the most basic of all female images is that of a woman as mother, but the various phases of pregnancy and birth are unevenly represented in art. the more boldly physical the representation, the more male artists have tended to shy away from it. Several slightly conflicting reasons can be suggested for this - that women's experience was not considered important enough to be worth representation; that there was an element of secrecy attached to certain female bodily functions; that women in the throes of giving birth were considered ritually unclean. For whatever reason, representations of heavily pregnant women and, still more so, of women in the process of giving birth are unusual in Western culture. In the Middle Ages, the Virgin is occasionally shown as pregnant, pointing to her swollen belly. the most famous example of this is Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto in the chapel of the cemetery of Monterchi near Arezzo, painted in the 1460s. The representation is always idealized. 

More recently, representations of pregnancy have been made by women artists as a way of stressing the central importance of women as life-givers and the guardieans of the future of the human race. Kathe kollwitz(1867-1945),with her deep concern for the struggles of the industrial working class- which she knew at first hand because her husband was a doctor who ran a clinic for the urban poor in Berlin - makes a weary, pregnant working-class woman into a symbol of endurance, but she also implies that the woman is the victim of all the accumulated social evils of her time. 

One of the most striking of all twentieth-century images of pregnant women is a portrait by the American artist Alice Neel(1900-84). Neel's career followed a pattern not uncommon in the case of gifted female artists- many years of neglect followed by a sudden burst of recognition when she reached old age. In her case,neglect was intensified by the fact that her painting remained stubbornly figurative throughout a period when abstraction had become the dominant mode in american art. A high proportion of her work is made up of portraits of friends, who are portrayed with an unflinching eye for character. Incapable of compromise and-despite her gift for friendship- a compulsive non-joiner of artistic groups or movements, Neel often took a mischievous delight in creating confrontational images. When, late in her career, she made a portrait of Andy Warhol, then a major celebrity whose interest in her work was partly responsible for the belated establishment of her reputation, Neel insisted on showing the terrible scares which were the result of the attack made on him in 1968 by Valerie Solanas. Warhol, with his taste for publicity, concurred, where any other sitter would probably have refused. At first sight, Neel's portrait of Margaret Evans Pregnant follows a similar pattern, but the confrontational element is softened by the artist's evident feeling of reverence for the new life which is so soon to begin.

Differing visions of Heroism

The portrayal of female heroism in Western art has, until recently, despite the occasional intervention of female artists like Artemisia, been largely dominated by males. Despite the examples of women in action illustrated  , the main part of the tradition often gives these supposedly heroic figures a curiously passive role. A good example is in the portrayal by Jan van Eyck (c.1390 - 1441) of St.Barbara, who sits passively besides the tower in which she was supposedly imprisoned by her tyrannical father. Nothing indicates her position as the patron of artillerymen and protector against thunderstorms. But then she only acquired these attributes because her father was struck by lightning and reduced to ashes after personally executing her following her conversion to Christianity. St. Barbara's story sounds highly unlikely, and it is not surprising to learn that she was recently struck from the official calendar of saints, on the grounds that her very existence cannot be clearly established. 

The contemporary artist Paula Rego (b. 1935) takes a very different approach in her portrayal of a clearly female angel. Waving a sword with a briskly confident air, this personage has all the boldness we attribute to Joan of Arc. Rego is famous for her sardonic sense of humor, and it is not surprising to find that this personage is presented  in a slightly deflationary way. The artist seems to admire the militant stance of her creation, while finding her also very slightly ridiculous. Yet it is worth noting that Rego's angel has an ambiguous side. In her other hand she carries a sponge, one of the instruments of the Passion-the sponge was used by an attendant soldier to offer vinegar to Christ when he was hanging on the cross. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 - 1652)


Artemisia Gentileschi was the most important woman painter of the Early Modern Europe by virtue of the excellence of her work, the originality of her treatment of traditional subjects, and the number of her paintings that have survived (though only thirty-four of a much larger corpus remain, many of them only recently attributed to her rather than to her male contemporaries). She was both praised and disdained by contemporary critical opinion, recognized as having genius, yet seen as monstrous because she was a woman exercising a creative talent thought to be exclusively male. Since then, in the words of Mary D. Garrard, she " has suffered a scholarly neglect that is almost unthinkable for an artist of her caliber."

Like many other women artist of her era who were excluded from apprenticeship in the studio of successful artist, Gentileschi was the daughter of a painter. She was born in Rome on July 8,1593, the daughter of Orazio and Prudentia Monotone Gentileschi. Her mother died when Artemisia was twelve. her father trained her as an artist and introduced her to the working artists of Rome, including Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro style(contrast of light and shadow) greatly influenced Artemisia Gentileschi's work. Other than artistic training, she had little or no schooling; she did not learn to read and write until she was adult. However, by the time she was seventeen, she had produced one of the works for which she is best known, her stunning interpretation of Susanna and the Elders(1610). 

Among those with whome Orazio worked was the Florentine artist Agostino Tassi, whom Artemisia accused of rapping her in 1612, when she was nineteen. Her father filed suit against Tassi for injury and damage, and , remarkably, the transcripts of the seven-month-long rape trial have survived. According to Artemisia, Tassi, with the help of family friends, attempted to be alone with her repeatedly, and raped her when he finially succeeded in cornering her in her bedroom. He tired to placate her afterwards by promising to marry her, and gained access to her bedroom (and her person) repeatedly on the strength of that promise, but always avoided following through with the actual marriage. The trial followed a pattern familiar even today; she was accused of not having been a virgin at the time of the rape and of having many lovers, and she was examined by midwives to determine whether she had been 'deflowered" recently or a long time ago. Perhaps more galling for an artist like Gentileschi, Tassi testified that her skills were so pitiful that he had to teach her the rules of perspective, and was doing so the day she claimed he had raped her. Tassi denied ever having had sexual relations with Gentileschi and brought many wintesses to testify that she was "an insatiable whore." Their testimony was refuted by Orazio(who brought countersuit for perjury), and Artemisia's accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi's boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia's expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-in-law and was charged with arranging the murder of his wife. he was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi; he served under a year in prison and was later invited again into the Gentileschi household by Orazio.

During and soon after the trial, Gentileschi painted Judith slaying Holofernes(1612-1613). The painting is remarkable not only for its technical proficiency, but for the original way in which Gentileschi portrays Judith, who had long been a popular subject for art. One month after the long trial ended, in November of 1612, Artemisia was married to a florentine artist, Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and they moved to Florence, probably the next year. While there, she had a daughter named either Prudentia or Palmira. In Florence, Gentileschi returned to the subject of Judith, completing Judith and her Maidservant in 1613 or 1614. Again, Gentileschi's treatment of the familiar subject matter is unexpected and original. Both she and her husband worked at the Academy of Design, and Gentileschi became an official member there in 1616- a remarkable honor for a woman of her day probably made possible by the support of her Florentine patron, the Grand Duke Gentileschi left Florence to return to Rome upon his death in 1621.

From there she probably moved to Genoa that same year, accompanying her father who was invited there by a Genovese nobleman. While there she painted her first Lucretia (1621) and her first Cleopatra (1621 - 1622). She also received commissions in nearby Venice during this period and met Anthony Van Dyck, a very successful painter of the era, and also perhaps Sofonisba Anguissola, a generation older than Gentileschi and one of the handful of women who worked as artist. Gentileschi soon returned to Rome and is recorded as living there as head of household with her daughter and two servants. Evidently she and her husband had separated and she eventually lost touch with him altogether. Gentileschi later had another daughter, and both are known to have been painters, though neither work nor any assessment of it has survived. 

During this stay in Rome, a French artist, Pierre Dumonstier le Neveu, made a drawing of her hand holding a paintbrush, calling it a drawing of the hand of "the excellent and wise noble woman of Rome, Artemisia." her fame is also evident in a commemorative medal bearing her portrait made some time between 1625 and 1630 that calls her pictrix celebris or"  celebrated woman painter." Also at this time, Jerome David painted her portrait with the inscription calling her " the famous Roman painter."

Some time between 1626 and 1630 Gentileschi moved to Naples, where she remained until 1638. She is again listed as "head of household." While there, she painted her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting(1630), a work unique in its fusing of art, muse, and artist, The Annunciation(1630), another Lucertia, another Cleopatra, and many other works. She collaborated with a number of (male) artists while in Naples. In 1637, desperate for money to finance her daughter's wedding, Gentileschi began looking for new patrons. In one letter soliciting commissions, she mentions " a youthful work done by [her] daughter" that she is sending along.

The new patron to whom she finally attached herself was King Charles I of England. Gentileschi was in residence at the English court from 1638 to 1641, one of many continental artists invited there by that art-collecting king. She may have gone specifically to assist her father, Orizo, in a massive project to decorate the ceilings of the Queen's house at Greenwich. After civil war had broken out in England in 1641( a war that would result in the death of charles I), Artemisia returned to Naples where she lived until her death. She remained very active there, painting at least five variations on Bath sheba and perhaps another Judith. The only record of her death is in two satiric epitaphs- frequently translated and reprinted- that make no mention of her art but figure her in exlusively sexual terms as a nymphomaniac and adulterer.




The Legend of Judith


If Sayeda Hagar and Zenobia offered women artists a chance to comment on their own condition, and on the situation of women in general, the same might perhaps be said - and has recently sometimes been said with great emphasis - about the biblical legend of Judith and Holofernes. Further investigation of the cultural context for this story indicates a need to be careful. The Apocryphal Book of Judith ( it is included in the Roman canon, but not in the Hebrew or Protestant one) is a piece of patriotic fiction, which tells the story of how a virtuous jewish woman saved her people from the army of the Assyrians. She does so by getting the enemy general, Holofernes, drunk, then cutting off his head. The many anachronisms included in the story make certain that it cannot be regarded as true history, but Judith attained wide popularity as the type of the independent heroine who acts on her own initiative. For the Florentines of the fifteenth century, for example, she was the symbol of the resistance of the Florentine Republic to papal and other attempts to dominate the city, and this is the significance often attached to the celebrated statue of Judith made by Donatello, and placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Ironically, however, the statue was made for a non-Florentine patron and only later acquired by the Medici, who were largely responsible for removing the political liberties of the city. 
The most celebrated representation of Judith, next to Donatello's version, is now the painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/53). Artemisia has attracted attention not only for her career as a successful woman painter, at a time when woman painters were extremely rare, but also because she was raped by another painter, Agosino Tassi, whose pupil she was. The documents concerning this trial have been extensively published and have raised Artemisia to the position of feminist heroine. Her Judith has been seen as her own commentary on her ordeal- a perception reinforced by the fact that her father Orazio Gentileschi (1562-1639), also a painter, used his daughter  as the model for his own version of Judith.
This 'personal' interpretation of Artemisia's painting has proven extremly popular in recent years for understandable reasons, but one inconvenient fact stands in its way. The painting by Caravaggio (1573-1610) of the same incident, in which Judith violently severs Holofernes'Head, is quite clearly the inspiration for Artemisia's composition. Throughout her career Artemisia was influenced by Caravaggio's highly individual style. To some extent, we have to make a choice between a personal interpretation and a more purely art historical one. If Artemisia made this painting a vehicle for her own feelings, these were poured into a stylistic vessel which was not completely her own. 
One indication of the difficulties surrounding the interpretation of Artemisia's life and work is provided by the film Artemisia(1998). Though obviously inspired by feminist interest in the artist- and made by a woman director, Agn'es Merlet - the film changes the story to turn Tassi into a sort of hero and Artemisia into a young woman who is in love with him. The fictional Artemisia therefore becomes a total betrayal of the historically established one, and the film undermines itself. 
It is undoubtedly the popularity of the Judith story as a feminist text which encouraged the contemporary artist Cindy Sherman(b.1954) to portray herself as Judith in one of her autobiographical paraphrases of the Old Masters. Amusing as this portrayal is, it is marked by the curious under-current of self-dislike which marks so much of Sherman's work. Far from being an active, positive figure, Sherman's Judith stands rather limply, making a moue of distaste, Holofernes' severed head dangling almost forgotten from her hand.