Canada Dreams
Garrard, Mary D. Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. Princeton NJ: Princeton Press, 1989.
Words were not created to describe a life devoted to the creation of such stunningly rich and fully self expressed masterpieces. Words leave us pacing at the periphery wondering if the babe and mother survived, but still I read on.
This was a woman who's life we should all take a look at, for it conveys all there is to know of the heroine and the woman. It also says a great deal of the steadfast determination of the author, who needed to hunt down her subject through the hiding places of the misogynist art world of this century and many before it.
The primal connection of the artist for her work shows clearly with her Suzanna and the Elders. This was painted a year before Gentileschi's rape by a family friend. Whether she saw the rape coming through prior flirtations or whether she had some psychic predilection is open to interpretation, but what is clear is that this young seventeen year old girl was not a painter of flat canvases. We see the sexual blackmail in the suspicious nature of the old men, along with the innocence of Suzanna. The similarities with Artemisia's case are amazing, and the fact that Artemisa is not totally vindicated can not be lost especially since in later works many of her subjects die.
I found noteworthy the choice of colour she used in the Judith series. In the first she uses red in the dress of the maid, I think this represents the artist and her anger. Raised without a mother Artemisia has painted Judith in maternal blue. I see this as indicating how she would have liked to be taken care of by her mother. As it was in reality, the women she had befriended before the rape had abandoned her. In the next painting, Judith and Her Maidservant, Judith is in a very dark healing green with a red lining; and her maid and helper is in male yellow, perhaps this is her father's energy.
Next in the series was another like the first except that the red cover is draped across Holofernes, and the maid is detached and in a lighter green. The maid is Artemisa significantly healed ten years later; Judith is in male gold with a touch of red sleeve. This is the male aspect of her life; the face even looks male with the hair looking more like a wig. Subsequent years after the rape, she tended to keep to the male world with many male friends including people like Gallileo. The final Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes finds Judith (Artemisia) clothed in gold and the maid in purple. I would say that this shows her inner woman with her inner strength. Artemisia had needed over the years to take on the male business world and became quite adept in assimulating their strengths in that realm. I think with this picture we see a thirty-five year old woman who is finally coming into her strength (gold) and majestic self assurance (purple). Because she never prostrated herself in her art and stayed true to her feelings I can see in this painting that a true healing took place.
In other works we see the many emotions that plagued the young girl and woman. From her first Madonna through all the other female worthies, we see the times she questioned burning issues such as suicide and moral obligation.
In this book Garrard has left no stone unturned. She has examined her subject's life from the very beginning and into the next century after her death. I think in living so closely with such a magnificent person that it has indeed rubbed off. This is a great work and worthy of the subject.

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