UK institutions are beginning to close in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like their US counterparts, that began announcing closures in the past two weeks, museums in the UK are starting to follow the advice of Public Health England and closing their doors to help slow the spread of the virus. All major British theatres have closed and museums, like the V&A and Tate Galleries have already shuttered. Some are anticipating closures until early May, and the National Gallery (NG) has announced that today will be their last operational day. With these closures comes the postponement of many exhibitions, including ‘Artemisia’, the long-anticipated exhibition.
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We will be temporarily closed from 19 March to 4 May 2020 as a precautionary measure to help contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The safety and wellbeing of our visitors, colleagues and community is paramount, therefore we have decided to temporarily close the Gallery from 19 March until 4 May 2020, in line with the latest advice from Public Health England. While the Gallery is closed in Trafalgar Square, our collection remains open for everyone to explore on the website and we will continue to share our paintings and their stories through social media and email for you to enjoy regardless of where you are.
The exhibition was set to start on April 4th but now, the opening date is uncertain as concerns over COVID-19 continue to interfere with daily life. ‘Due to the rapidly changing worldwide situation we cannot currently give a specific date,’ said NG staff, according to The Art Newspaper, however, they have emphasized that the show will still happen.
‘This is just a temporary postponement,’ said Gabriele Finaldi, director of the NG, in a statement, ‘and we look forward to being able to celebrate the astounding artistic achievements of Artemisia Gentileschi with everyone as soon as we possibly can.’
Simply titled ‘Artemisia,’ the exhibition was to be the first major show of works by the 17th century female artist who has begun to get the recognition she deserves. Her career and life have made her a feminist icon and her works have become more sought after in recent years. In 2018, the NG acquired Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-1617), which became the gallery’s first artwork by a female artist to be added to their permanent collection in nearly 30 years.
Gentileschi’s self-portrait made its debut in late 2018 and will surely still be a highlight of the exhibition. Alongside it, the NG was set to show two versions of Gentileschi’s Judith beheading Holofernes as well as a number of her well-known works depicting herself, Biblical scenes, and historic heroines. It is not yet clear if all the works that were originally intended for the show will still be included at a later date.
Taught by her father, artist Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia tackled subjects that were traditionally reserved for her male counterparts, only. At just 17, Gentileschi was raped by artist Agostino Tassi, a contemporary of her father. Gentileschi’s father then pressed charges, on her behalf, for property damage, as Gentileschi was not allowed to press charges herself. What followed was a grueling seven-month trial, during which, Gentileschi was tortured. Tassi was found guilty but his sentence of exile was never fully recognized. Much in part due to this major life event, Gentileschi’s works often challenged what we now know as the male gaze.
The postponed exhibition will still chart Gentileschi’s life and career through Italy, a place that has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. When the time comes for ‘Artemisia’ to go ahead, it will give viewers the chance to appreciate Gentileschi’s history and work, as well as the country she called home. Until then, be sure to stay abreast on museum closures and exhibitions postponements.