Artemisia Gentileschi "Allegory of Painting" 1620's Musée de Tessé, France
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593- 1656) needs no introduction from me, but this painting might. It has only fairly recently begun to be attributed to Artemisia, and was for some time thought to be the work of Giovanni Baglione (1566-1643) a contemporary and fierce enemy of Gentileschi's father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639.) In fact, as the young woman looks very much like Artemisia herself, it was felt that this piece was intended by Baglione as a cruel barb for Orazio's pride, showing his daughter lying degenerately on the floor amongst the tumbled attributes of painting, nude but for a convenient length of cloth. However, other interpretations have since arisen. The currently prevailing thought is that this piece was painted by Artemisia herself as a sort of demonstration piece of her own abilities, especially as the foreshortening of a figure on the diagonal is a very difficult technical achievement. The piece also seems more somnolent than seductive. The model's naked state is muffled with rich fabric, and softened with shadow. We should also remember that at this time, nudity was a double-edged sword visually, being employed to show erotic love scenes from mythology but equally frequently employed by artists to signify innocence and naturalness, the very opposite of artifice and deceit. Moreover, the handling of the paint is softer than Baglione's generally more hard-edged style.