Susan Vreeland’s historical novel about the Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi opens with an accusation of rape.
At the papal court, the thumbscrews are applied.
They are not on the hands of the accused, but rather on those of the accuser. The court hopes Artemisia will recant her accusation.
She doesn’t, but her hands will carry the scars of torture for the rest of her life.
The daughter of famed artist Orazio Gentileschi, 18-year-old Artemisia has been raped by her father’s friend and fellow artist. He is banished from Rome, a punishment no one bothers to enforce.
Hoping to avoid further “scandal,” Orazio arranges a marriage for his daughter. She grows to love the man, but he becomes increasing agitated by her artistic success (he is an artist too, so you can see this is going to end badly).
Artemisia’s passion is her art, and she will struggle her entire life to pursue her passion and gain the recognition she deserves (many of her paintings were credited to her father). It’s tough going in a society that views women as either wives or nuns, never artists.
This book is an enjoyable read with many colorful characters — Artemisia befriends Galileo and paints for Cosimo de Medici — including her daughter, Palmira. The story works well whether you are interested in art or not.
To learn more about Artemisia and view some of her art, go to www.artemisia-gentileschi.com.
And if you enjoy “The Passion of Artemisia,” I also recommend “Girl With a Pearl Earring” by Tracey Chevalier, a fictional look at Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer through the eyes of his servant and model. (The movie was great too!)