Last November 10th, I posted “No Country for Exceptional Women”. In the aftermath of recent events, I read many essays and articles claiming that the USA Presidential glass ceiling had at least been seriously “cracked”. I see no sign of it, but did get a pleasant surprise since posting: Artemisia, one of my two “exceptional women”, has arrived on the art scene in Rome to break through her personal glass ceiling with a vengeance.
She did it. 363 years after her death.
I was sitting in my car in the eye of one of our notorious daily traffic jams when a poster on a sidewalk billboard caught my eye. I recognised the full colour and strong lines of one of Artemisia’s famous paintings. Thanks to the gridlock, I read on undisturbed and found out she’s finally getting full-fledged recognition here in Rome, with an exhibit in one of the center’s main Municipal museums, the “Museo di Roma” just off Piazza Navona. The exhibit opened over a week ago, and will run till May 7th 2017.
If you visit Rome, and are interested in late Renaissance-Early Baroque Italian 17th century art, don’t miss it. Titled “Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo tempo” – “Artemisia Gentileschi and her times” – it has gathered almost a hundred paintings that comprise both hers and those of many painters who were her contemporaries. It does an excellent job of showing and explaining their exchange of ideas and subjects, the overlap of their styles. The cultural similarities and tastes in fashion are all obvious, and the show places her squarely among the successful artists of her time who commanded high level patronage and commissions. She was the only woman in a totally male-dominated artistic environment, and seems to have held her ground among the best of them.
The exhibit shows a skilled painter whose subjects are often brutal, an … exceptional woman, multi-faceted in both her relationships and interests.
She started her career in Rome, continued it in Florence, moved back to Rome. She lived and worked in Venice too, and Naples – where she eventually died – was one of her favourite cities. She was called to the court of King James 1st in 1638 and worked in London for over a year.
Most of the paintings in the exhibit are on loan from museums and collections around the world. So though mainstream History of Art books have often overlooked her role and invariably highlight the works of her lesser male contemporaries, she is appreciated by collectors in many countries, including the USA: I saw that one of her works belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, another to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
Glass ceilings may just become something of the past. Maybe in another 363 years.