A recently discovered painting by renowned 17th century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi sold at auction in Paris for a record of €2,360,600 (roughly $2,802,173.)
The painting, which is a self-portrait as Saint Catherine, falls in line with Gentileschi’s tradition of painting pictures of religious or allegorical figures using self-portraiture, like she did in works like “Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting” or “Allegory of Inclination.” All of these depictions were pretty bold works at the time, considering most women artists of the 17th century were stuck painting portraits and still lives—Gentileschi was out here painting nude bodies.
You might know Gentileschi best by her painting “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” which has become a sort of misandrist emblem. Gentileschi, like so many women artists, was lost to time before she was rediscovered in the 20th century as a feminist icon. She had a fascinating life, having painted from a young age under the eye of her father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi. When she was just 17 another painter, Agostino Tassi, raped her, and she suffered a brutal public trial in which she was tortured to tell the truth. From the Smithsonian:
In the ensuing eight-month trial, Artemisia testified that she was painting when Tassi came into the room shouting, “Not so much painting, not so much painting.” He then grabbed the palette and brushes from her hands and threw them to the floor. She fought and scratched to no avail, finally attacking him with a knife. To establish her truthfulness, authorities administered a primitive lie detector test—in the form of torture by thumbscrews, a common practice at the time. As the cords were tightened around her fingers, she was said to have cried out to Tassi, “This is the ring you give me, and these are your promises.
Because she was so brutally attacked, a lot of critics have viewed the violence in Gentileschi’s work as if it were a kind of revenge for being assaulted. Which, hey, it might have been! But while there may be a lot of violence and darkness in Gentileschi’s art, works like this Saint Catherine portrait help to broaden art history’s limited idea of her career and showcase the other dimensions to her art. The Art Newspaper article on this particular painting’s sale points out that while the auction price is a big deal, Gentileschi is “not represented in many important museums: neither of the National Galleries in London or Washington, DC, nor the Getty, nor the Louvre, which curiously did not pre-empt the sale under French patrimony laws.”
Hopefully, this Saint Catherine painting doesn’t end up in someone’s basement.