Monday, February 23, 2009

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

From extraordinary highs - patronage by the Medicis, friendship with
Galileo and, most importantly of all, beautiful and outstandingly original
paintings - to rape by her father's colleague, torture by the Inquisition,
life-long struggles for acceptance by the artistic Establishment, and betrayal
by the men she loved, Artemisia was a bold and brilliant woman who lived as she
wanted, and paid a high price. Now Susan Vreeland, author of the acclaimed GIRL
IN HYACINTH BLUE, brings her story to passionate and vivid life.

I had no expectations when I started this The Passion of Artemisia as I had never heard of Artemisia Gentileschi nor had read Susan Vreeland. I had heard of Vreeland though and I did a bit of research on Artemisia’s story before I started.

Artemisia, a 17th century painter, is still a young woman when she is faced with a terrible ordeal. After being secretly raped for about a year by a friend of the family and fellow painter her father finds out and decides to bring the man to justice. For Artemisia this is the ruin of her reputation as few people believe she didn’t “ask for it” and it’s almost the end of her as a painter because to prove that she tells the truth she is submitted to torture that seriously damages her hands.
Artemisia feels terribly betrayed by her father when he eventually drops the charges against the man who raped her and, after he arranges for her wedding with another, she leaves Rome with her new husband.

Settled in Florence both Artemisia and her husband devote themselves to painting. She paints heroic, strong women instead of the submissive females those times were used to. She paints in canvas the pain and anger she felt with her own situation. She soon becomes better known than her husband and manages to get better commissions which puts a strain in their relationship that, along with his infidelities, will lead her to leave him when she is offered work in elsewhere.

We follow Artemisia’s life as she travels from one work and city to another and we appreciate with her the finest artistic works at the same time that we follow some of the most interesting figures of the time. Although a fictitious account it makes for an engrossing read on creativity, how a lifetime of experiences can change your view of the world and on the relationship between artists and patrons at the time.

Artemisia is the first woman to be accepted in the Academy of Drawing of Florence and after reading this book I felt compelled to look at some of her paintings. I was not disappointed. Although the book does not portray her life as accurately as one might wish, and it does show a definite feminist influence, it makes for an interesting read.

Grade: 4/5


  1. I picked this book up at the second hand store the other day. I will have to see if I can work it in and review it soonish. I haven't been reading much historical fiction lately, though... Not sure why that is...

  2. I've read a couple of Vreeland's books and really enjoyed them. I haven't read this one yet. I was planning to read it for the Art History Challenge.

  3. Well, I'm looking forward to read your reviews as soon as you get around to reading it.