Artemisia Gentileschi was an artist who knew the pitfalls of being a woman. As she wrote to her patron, Antonio Ruffo, in 1649, “I fear that before you saw the painting you must have thought me arrogant and presumptuous ... You think me pitiful because a woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen.”
At age 56, she had achieved something close to impossible for a woman in 17th-century Italy: She had become a highly accomplished and successful painter. Yet, as admired as she was in her profession, she could still be wounded—as the letter to Ruffo shows—by prejudices arising against her gender. There were other troubles from the past to contend with, the legacy of which found expression in her greatest works. (This Renaissance warrior woman defied powerful popes.)
Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593. Her father, Orazio, was a highly regarded painter. Her mother died in 1605, and Orazio did not remarry. At the age of 12, Artemisia became the matriarch of the Gentileschi family.