Artemisia Gentileschi

Born 1593. Died 1653.
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Artemisia Gentileschi Biography

Artemisia Gentileschi was the best-known woman painter in Europe during the 17th century. Because of the restrictions placed on woman, she was unable to enter traditional artistic training system as an apprentice or assistant of an established studio. Instead she trained with her father Orazio, who boasted of her talent that far surpassed that of her brothers.

In her paintings, Gentilschi often depicted stories heroic women of biblical, mythological and historical narratives. Gentileschi herself was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, and the first known woman artist to develop patronage of international clientele.

After moving to Florence from Rome, she quickly garnered support from the Medicis, and secured commissions from the royal court. After separating from her husband, she became the head of her own household, securing an uncommon independence for women of the time, and encouraging her daughters, who became artists in their own right. As her father was heavily influenced by Caravaggio, Gentileschi is often referred to as a Caravagista, though her particular talents were unmatched in dramatic yet elegant handling of tapestries, lighting, in addition to her unique ability to depict both the physical bodies as well as psychological states of her women subjects. Many of her paintings depict stories commonly found in contemporary painting, but from the often-ignored perspective of the female champion. Among her heroines are the Bible’s Esther, who risked death in appealing to King Ahasuerus for her people; Jael, who murdered Sisera to deliver Israel from King Jabin; Cecelia, patroness of music and performers; and Judith who slayed Holofernes to protect her city. Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) is considered Gentilschi’s best-known work.

Gentileschi’s oeuvre fell into momentary obscurity as her paintings were often attributed to followers of Caravaggio or to her father. Fortunately, recent scholarly research has reinvigorated the proper attention due to Gentileschi. Contemporary artist Judy Chicago included Gentileschi in her Dinner Party installation from the 1970s, which set a table for significant women in history. Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Prado Museum, El Escorial, The Metropolitan Museum, the Uffizi, and many other major institutions.

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