Can Good Art Glorify Bad Things – Essay Example

Can Good Art Glorify Bad Things? Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593 and died in 1653. She was a daughter of the painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) who taught her to paint. This was an unusual step in those days because women were not allowed access to art schools and they rarely had an opportunity to develop their talents. While she was still a teenager she had a tutor called Agostino Tassi who sexually assaulted her many times. Artemisia’s father took Tassi to court and this was a long and humiliating experience for Artemisia (for a full account of the court case see Garrard, 1989, pp. 403-488). Despite this, Artemisia went on to be a highly successful painter, and she became the first woman to be admitted to the famous “Academia del Disegno”. Her work is technically superb and she deserves her place as one of the most famous Italian painters of the Baroque.
Artemisia’s picture Judith Beheading Holofernes was painted shortly after the legal proceedings in 1612-1613 and it bears some similarities with a picture entitled also Judith Beheading Holofernes which was painted by Caravaggio (1571-1610). It was natural that a young painter would look to the acknowledged masters of the time for inspiration. Both paintings are in the baroque style, and make use of the chiaroscuro technique to highlight the skin and faces of the main characters. The composition is similar too, with the torso and head of Holefernes on the lower left, and the two women on the upper and right parts of the picture. Artemisia’s painting, however, places much more emphasis on the struggle between the women and the victim. The women’s muscular arms are tangled up with the man’s flailing arms, and they both are involved in a very physical way with holding him down and cutting his head off. The expression on Judith’s face, however, is rather cool and determined. The painting does not exult in the violence. It looks more like an execution. The killing is depicted, like the original Bible story, from the point of view that the man is bad, and the women are acting out of good motives. Vigue notes that Artemisia had “a predilection for biblical scenes, especially those that include women heroines who confront powerful and domineering men” (2002, p.65). It is easy to see how this painting helps her to work through the difficult emotions and truly bad things that happened to her, and in the end it does not so much glorify the killing of the giant Holofernes, as depict the valiant struggle of two women overcoming the male aggressor, which indeed Artemisia went on to do in her life.
Works Cited
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi de. Judith Beheading Holofernes. Oil on canvas.
1598-1599. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.
Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith Beheading Holofernes. Oil on canvas. 1614-1620.
Museo Nationale di Capodimonte, Naples.
Garrard, Mary D. Artimisia Gentileschi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Vigue, Jordi. Great Women Masters of Art. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2002.