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Artemisia Gentileschi: an artistic challenge to 17th -century patriarchy

Alessia Silvi

History of Art


Year of study:

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 My project focuses on the female painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s works in Venice (1627-1630), an enigma for art historians because few of her paintings from this time have survived. We know, however, that Artemisia played a central role in the most influential Venetian cultural circles: as sources show, she engaged with prominent female writers (often defined as ‘proto-feminist’ for their radical views on women’s worth) and with intellectuals that contributed significantly to the birth of opera. 

By adopting a gender studies methodology, I investigate the links and reciprocal influences between Artemisia’s known paintings during her time in Venice, the treatises on women’s value, and opera scripts, particularly those that present strong female protagonists. These works share an innovative view of women’s bodies, voices and gestures, an original approach to dress and its role as an instrument of eloquence, and a new perspective on exemplary models of femininity. I also argue that these themes intersect with profound social and economic changes in early modern Europe, concerning in particular women’s roles and status. Literary and visual sources articulate cultural debates on female value, in which the virtuose, including Artemisia herself, were undisputed protagonists.  

This research also provides an opportunity to reflect on how diverse media, including painting, literature, music and theatre, form a complex web of reciprocal influences while contributing as a whole to define new social and cultural values - in this case, they shape a new and, in some respects, revolutionary idea of femininity and of women’s right to self-expression. 


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