The Spirit of Caesar in the Soul of a Woman

An Analysis of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Seventeenth-Century Gender and Patronage

  • Sydney Pearson


It is regrettable that the brilliant Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, is perhaps best known for her rape by Agostino Tassi, or as her father’s student. It is notable and disturbing that even the briefest of references, such as those above, tend to place Gentileschi in a passive role: as a person who was raped, a person who was taught. Men have long dominated Gentileschi’s story, though art historians have begun to question this profoundly sexist narrative. Untangling the artist’s personal agency has been a difficult process because so little information about her has been unearthed beyond her visual art and her rape trial. In this paper I will address a typically overlooked treasure trove of information that sheds light on Artemisia Gentileschi’s career: the records of her patronage and personal business dealings across Europe. These records reveal not only a talented and highly sought-after artist, but also a woman who acted on her own agency, meeting the obstacles of gender and navigating them.


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