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Anna Banti: Artemisia (Artemisia)

This is a novel about the 17th century Italian painter, Artemisia Gentileschi (see links below for more about the real person). Not much was known about her and what is known is the basis for Banti’s novel, with the rest of the details added by Banti. Banti does not just tell a straightforward story of a woman who had more than her fair share of problems and succeeded as a painter in a period when women did not become painters. For Banti, Artemisia is a friend, a soul-mate. She talks to her (from her perspective in Fascist Italy) and talks about her. Indeed, after Artemisia herself, Banti is the main character in the book.

Though Banti talks to Artemisia, Artemisia does not talk back. Rather she is seen as a person who is struggling in a world in which she clearly is not like everyone else. She comes out badly in a rape trial, has problems with her father, her husband (who abandons her to make his fortune as a merchant) and even her daughter. For the sake of her art, she travels around Italy – Rome and Naples, in particular – and then slowly makes her way to England through France. In England, she and her father work mainly for Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The novel ends there (except for Banti’s attempts to find Artemisia’s grave site in London) as nothing is known of her return to Italy. But Banti’s book – which has helped to restore Artemisia’s reputation (many of her paintings had been attributed to her father) – is a fine work which not only places the artist in her proper place but places the writer as an important and fascinating character.

More on Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi
The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia: The Rape and the Trial
Gallery of Paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi
Some of her paintings
Some of her paintings
Artemisia Gentileschi
Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy
Artemisia Gentileschi in the Movies

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Mondadori
First published in English 1988 by University of Nebraska Press