The Confluence

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Though the term feminism did not yet exist, Artemisia Gentileschi’s embrace of the vital force of feminine strength is a distinctive component to her paintings. The woman painter’s life and art were affected by her sex, in a time when women were not only considered property but had to deal with the repercussions of an oppressive patriarchal society. From her youth onwards, Gentileschi witnessed women unjustly convicted and punished for crimes that had men committed, the law would have allowed them to walk free. Sadly, Artemisia was later privy to the misogynistic laws herself with the famous rape trial. It was a reality that women did not own their bodies, much less property, and were said to be weaker than men in reason, morality, and emotional stability. Men have perpetuated these lies for centuries to further subjugate and control women. With the wake of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, much progress has taken place for women, but there are prevailing similarities between modern day to Renaissance Italy with the presence of sexual double standards, objectification, misogynistic practices, and cases of sexual violence against predominantly women, seen in recent examples such as the #MeToo movement. As Mary Garrard, an art historian who has done much work with the life and art of Artemisia Gentileschi, states, “full equality between men and women remains a dream”. With context of Artemisia’s experiences of sexual assault, the strength of her female figures depicted in her paintings become ever more powerful and inspiring to women who feel the oppression of men keenly in their own lives, both today and in Gentileschi’s time. In a review of Mary Garrard’s book, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Feminism in Early Modern Europe, art historian Gary Schwartz calls this idea the “transhistorical community of women”. Through the combined methodologies of biography, feminism, and semiotics/structuralism, various critics exhibit Artemisia Gentileschi’s difficult experiences as a woman in the 17th century and how they influenced her stylistic choices. When her paintings—such as Susanna and the Elders, Lucretia, Judith Slaying Holofernes, and others—are seen through the perspective of modern day, Gentileschi continues to be a relevant model for women who struggle with the prevailing frustration of the female experience and the universal damages of sexism, which can manifest in discrimination, double standards and sexual harassment and violence.





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