Artemisia

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Artemisia Gentileschi was that rare thing, a woman painter of the Baroque. She painted queens and noblewomen, and, splendidly, Judith killing Holofernes. She travelled round Italy and all the way to England, where her father, whom she idolised, was also working as a painter.

Anna Banti told her story, meticulously researching it all as an art historian. Then the Second World War destroyed her manuscript.

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Banti had to recreate her story, in conversation with Artemesia in her mind. She did it, and her book “rose from the ashes” to be published in Italy in 1947. And when Artemesia entered Banti’s imagination, her father was not close behind her.

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Artemesia suffered much; she was raped as a young woman, married but did not settle, and yet she found the space and resources to paint like her father. Or rather, like herself. Surrounded by noble ladies, she stood out.

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How did the painting turn out, in the end? You can see for yourself, in the National Gallery next spring, in a major new exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s work. I for one will make sure I’m in London to see it.

How did the painter turn out? You’ll have to read the book to know that.

Artemisia by Anna Banti, translated by Shirly D-Ardia Caracciolo, is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

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