I visited this remarkable exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery just after it opened. We went round it twice as couldn’t go back on ourselves for reasons of distancing and I’m aiming to see it again.
I’ve focussed here on a couple of paintings including one of Gentileschi’s most famous, the incredible Judith beheading Holofernes, a larger than life-sized canvas completed when she was only 21. Look at the level of detail: the determination of her expression, the theatricality of blood spurts and drops in mid-air,
the tension in her wrist, his hair caught between her fingers, the gorgeousness of the satin-lined bedspread. It was apparently painted for Cosimo II de’ Medici. and is a virtuoso piece of art.
Here’s a slightly earlier and different version with more of Caravaggio’s influence visible in the dramatic lighting.
Looking at her work one can definitely observe a different sensibility from the norms of the time in her depiction of character. This must have been part of her appeal to clients in addition to her technical brilliance.
The painting below illustrates my point. Look at the contrast in this Danaë compared with Titian’s version (final image). The story of Danaë is the perfect excuse for a private male collector to commission a recumbent female nude in the throes of ecstasy.
Gentileschi’s small painting on copper depicts a woman with her legs slightly crossed, her fist clenched and a suspicious expression, hardly erotic and very unlike Titian’s huge canvas currently on display in another room.