Friday, October 19, 2012

The Allegory of Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi "Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting"  1630s

This iconic painting by the Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) is in the Royal Collection in London, purchased in the 1600s by fanatical art collector Charles I of England. Signora Gentileschi's father Orazio Gentileschi was for a time court painter to this art-hungry monarch and in about 1638 Artemisia traveled to England to assist her parent with some large commissions. Signor Gentileschi died suddenly in 1639 and after winding up her own and her father's affairs, Signorina Gentileschi returned to Italy in about 1641, narrowly missing the start of the English Civil War and the subsequent beheading of her royal patron.

It has long been a common painterly conceit for an allegory of painting to have an idealized female figure represent the concept of painting . Historically, such scenes typically involve much garlanding with flowers and neo-classical architecture as a setting. There is usually very little actual painting being performed. It was typical of Signorina Gentileschi's idiosyncratic style to paint herself in so un-idealized a manner, hard at work in a cramped and dimly lit space. She is thought to have achieved this dynamic pose through the use of several mirrors.

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