The National Gallery’s (NG) recently acquired and freshly conserved Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi, which recently debuted at the NG, will be one of the highlights in a 2020 exhibition at the NG of works by the artist. The monograph exhibition will be the first devoted to the pioneering female artist in the UK and will celebrate the museum’s first Gentileschi to enter its collection. The exhibition will come after the new acquisition features in a touring pop-up exhibition in ‘five unusual and unexpected venues’ – starting with the Glasgow Women’s Library on March 6th – around the UK.
The NG is in the process of securing loans for the exhibition. If all goes to plan, the exhibition will feature Self-portrait as a Lute Player (1615-1618) belonging to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Connecticut and Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638-1639) in the Royal Collection. These works will be highlighted alongside the NG’s new acquisition.
The upcoming NG exhibition will focus on the paintings that are almost universally accepted to be the artist’s omitting artworks with questionable Gentileschi attribution. This will allow visitors to see the ‘real Artemisia’ as put by NG curator Letizia Treves.
Over the past 30 years, the artist has received more recognition as a significant Italian Baroque artist than she ever did during her life and career. Born to Orazio Gentileschi, an early follower of Caravaggio, Artemisia learned to paint under her father’s instruction. Her artistic education and subsequent career set her apart from female counterparts of the time. However, she has resonated with today’s society because her personal life was highly intertwined with her artistic career. At age 17 in 1611, Artemisia was raped by Agostino Tassi, a painter and acquaintance of her father’s brought in to teach her perspective. In the year following her rape, Artemisia was subjected to a grueling court proceeding during which, Artemisia was tortured and questioned at length. Tassi was eventually prosecuted and banished from Rome but his sentencing was never followed through with.
After the trial, she married a Florentine painter and moved from Rome to Florence. While there, she successfully made a name for herself as an independent and respected artist. She became the first woman admitted to the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in Florence. In 1639, she joined her father in London where he was working in the court of Charles I. She died in 1654, possibly in Naples.
As her popularity has grown during recent years, the number of works attributed to her has grown. In 1999, Ward Bissel published a catalogue raisonné consisting of 53 autograph works. Since then, many more works have been attributed to Artemisia but according to Treves, only about 25 have been universally accepted to be Artemisia’s. Our view has been ‘muddied by increasing attributions, diluting our sense of quite how good she is,’ says Treves. The curator hopes to secure 35 works for the NG’s 2020 exhibition to give better clarity to Artemisia’s oeuvre.