A baroque painter and follower of Caravaggio, Gentileschi is widely held to be the most important and accomplished woman artist before the modern period and one of the great artists of the Italian Baroque.
While the few woman painters of the time were largely restricted to domestic scenes and still lifes, Artemisia began, from a young age, to paint large-scale paintings of historical and religious subjects. Her most appreciated works nowadays display Caravaggesque use of chiaroscuro and high drama.
Some of her most famous paintings reflect her interest in depicting mythic-heroic women. These works have been described as proto-feministic in their depictions of their female subjects and in their subversion of the representations of these women typically found in male contemporaries’ works.
Originally tutored by her father, Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia was raped as a young woman by a friend of her father’s, who had taken over her tutelage. During a high-profile trial in which Artemisia testified against her rapist, she was subjected to humiliation and torture in order to ‘prove’ her claims. Critics have often tied these events in her own life into Gentileschi’s work as an artist, seeing her images of female vengeance, violence and strength as a cathartic and therapeutic representation of Artemisia’s anger and trauma.