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A Conversation with Jon Seydl on Artemisia Gentileschi

In our latest curator conversation, we sat down with Jon Seydl, the Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos, Jr., Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture (1500-1800,) to talk about his insights on the life and work of Artemisia Gentileschi. She was a pioneering artist in the 1600s and part of a dynamic father-daughter duo. She and her father, Orazio, will be the topic of his lecture on Sunday, March 13 @ 2:00 p.m. FREE!

Q: What's the focus of the lecture?

A: We will discuss one of her father's works in our collection and talk about their relationship and the realities of making art during their time.

His work was very beautiful, elegant, and poetic. I'd describe her work as powerful, dramatic, and smart. Their styles are very different and he must have encouraged her to develop her own voice as an artist.

Q: What makes Artemisia such a unique woman artist?

A: Artists who were women were not in and of themselves rare in this time because daughters often participated in family workshops as well as sons. But women were usually expected to focus on raising a family and were not encouraged to paint professionally. Artemisia made her living as an artist, raised her family through her art, and was able to have works commissioned throughout her life. Plus, she made her name with mythological and religious paintings, which most people saw as the most ambitious and intellectual kind of art.

She is to be remembered for her keen intellect, raw talent, creative energy, and strong ambition. Her father also clearly saw that talent early on and nurtured it, instead of just expecting her to copy his own style. All these combined together truly set her apart.

Q: How difficult was it for her to make a living as an artist at this time?

A: There was no safety net when you embarked on a career as an artist during the Renaissance. Most artists worked from commission to commission. Materials and models were expensive, payments often came late, creativity and quality took time, and cultivating clients was hard work. Her letters and other documents tell us that she often struggled just to make ends meet.

She and her father moved around a lot - Genoa, Venice, Naples, Rome, and London were among the places she lived and worked. She changed her style over time in order to fit in with what was going on around her and keep people interested in her work.

Q: What about her style was unique?

A: She had this incredible ability to depict naturalistic female bodies . She communicated a different understanding of the female body through her work.

Q: What fascinates you most about her life and work?

A: I've always been interested in the intersection between biography and art - what it can tell us and what it can't tell us. I'm also interested in how her style changes over time and how she deals with artistic problems such as telling these dramatic stories with a limited number of figures. And she always gives a unique twist even to the most conventional subjects.

Q: Which women artists came before Artemisia and which women artists came after her?

A: BEFORE: In Italy you have Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana – unlike Artemisia, these women were part of the aristocracy and so they had a much easier time connecting to their clients – they also focused more on portraiture.

AFTER: We actually acquired several works recently by women artists who came later: Rosalba Carriera and Anna Maria Carew.

Want more Artemisia Gentileschi? Meet us on Sunday, April 10 for a lecture and film about her @ 1:30 p.m.

-- Kesha Williams

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