9780670894499 / 0670894494

The Passion of Artemisia


Publisher:Viking Adult



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About the book:

What do Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi and 20th century novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch have in common? In addition to the obvious--that they're both women--their life stories have eclipsed their art; sadly, because their work is of real significance and interest. Gentileschi has been the subject of an earlier novel by Anna Banti and a 1998 film. In actuality, she was raped at 19 by one of her father's fellow painters, Agostino Tassi, and the documentation of the seven-month trial has survived, to be given very different interpretations in all these accounts. Susan Vreeland's Artemisia is a feisty feminist, brimful with brio and passionate about her painting, who offers her narrative in the intimacy of the first person. After Tassi's trial, Artemisia's father arranges her marriage to Pietro Stiattesi, a Florentine painter--and dedicated philanderer. Artemisia, so she hopes, is to begin life anew in Florence. Indeed, she gives birth to a beloved daughter, Palmira, and distinguished painting commissions come to her. She is accepted as the first woman into the Academy of Art and Design, is envied for of Cosimo de' Medici's patronage, befriends Galileo, and soon outstrips her husband's reputation.

Her marriage asunder, she begins her peripatetic travels to Genoa, Venice, Florence and eventually to London, always in search of work, and always fleeing the taint of her rape. Vreeland paints her character and the different worlds she inhabits with loving and compelling detail--the sights and sounds of Florence, the snooty male hegemony of the Academy, the Medici feuds and intrigues. But the writing, particularly in Artemisia's own reflections and dialogue, is often jarringly clunky: "I really was living the life of an artist in the greatest art city in the world"; "I wanted to hug them all"--and this does detract from the novel's tone and persuasivenss. The book's cover is a travesty: a portrait of St Cecilia--the model is thought to be Artemisia and the painting is by her father. But why not one of Artemisia's own extraordinary paintings: indeed, her absorbed, intense self-portrait speaks volumes? What a sad irony that its very boldness has been sacrificed to the more saccharine beauty of her father's work. --Ruth Petrie

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