I've never been a member of a book group before moving here, and I have to say it's forcing me to read books I never would have picked up. And, it forced me to get past the first two chapters in Susan Vreeland's novel,The Passion of Artemisia. Those two chapters were difficult, particularly the first one with its violent torture scene. However, those two chapters were the motivating forces behind Artemisia Gentileschi's art.
Vreeland tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century Italian artist, whose suffering and betrayal at the age of eighteen figured prominently in her later art. At eighteen, her father accused a fellow artist of raping her and stealing a painting. When the trial was brought to the papal court, Artemisia was forced to face her rapist in court daily, face the crowds that viewed her as a whore, and, finally face torture and humiliation. When the case was settled on return of the stolen painting, a wounded Artemisia demanded that her father find a way for her to leave Rome. A hasty marriage to a painter from Florence was the means of escape, and the means of a new world for Artemisia and her art.
Vreeland imagines Artemisia's life as a wife, a mother, but, most of all as a woman passionate about her art, and determined to paint. Guided by the advice of Sister Graziela, a nun in the convent where Artemisia lived after her mother's death, Artemisia was determined to paint, to find patrons, and to make a name for herself. In Judith, and other strong women from the Bible, Artemisia found an outlet for her anger against her rapist, her father, and men. And, at the cost of relationships, she placed her art above everything else in her life.
Susan Vreeland has brought to life one of the first women artists to be recognized in her own time. She also points out the cost to artists and intellectuals of the period as Artemisia finds a kindred soul in Galileo. And, she points out the cost to women in Artemisia's early rape and humiliation, and the story of Sister Graziela. The Passion of Artemisia is a fascinating look into a world when women had little power, and men and the Church had too much power. It's a story, though, of one woman's passion for art, a passion that directed her entire life.
Susan Vreeland's website is www.susanvreeland.com
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. Viking. 2002. ISBN 9780670894494 (hardcover), 288p.
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