#MeToo - circa 17th century

Sesha Subramanian discusses the renaissance precursor of the current #MeToo movement

Sesha Subramanian
16th March 2020
Wikimedia Commons
Unless you are well versed with Italian art during the late Renaissance period, Artemisia Gentileschi is someone whose name you've likely never heard of. In an era when women were actively denied equal opportunity, she became the first female member of the Accademia Di Arte del Designo.

She was born Artemisia Gentileschi Lomi in Rome on July 8, 1593, the eldest child of the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi and Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni. From an early age she showed more interest in art than her brothers - working in her father's workshop. And later on, she developed into a brilliant artist in her own right painting in the dramatic style of Caravaggio. However, for long periods of time, her achievements as an artist were overshadowed by her rape as a young woman and the subsequent trial of the rapist.

As a young woman, Artemisia found herself being tutored by Agostino Tassi - for whom her father was working on a job. During this tutelage, she was raped by the Italian painter. Things came to a head when Tassi later reneged on his promise of marriage. That is when the Gentileschi family decided to press for a trial - which took seven months to convict Tassi of rape (among other things).

Her art is a reflection of her views on women and often feature women either equal to men or as the main protagonist according to art critic Roberto Longhi (1916). These include her works of Jael and SiseraJudith and her Maidservant, and Esther. In terms of characteristics, her characters were often not what would in those days be considered feminine. They were often personalities who were courageous, brave and fearless - not afraid to go against what were societal norms. Her art with regard to biblical characters is also worthy of note, portraying them as being unafraid to rebel against the conditions that they were being subjected to.

Her works served as a medium to catalogue her traumatic life - being autobiographical beyond coincidence

Her work has come under increased interest with the increased discussion of feminism and feminist art. Her works served as a medium to catalogue her traumatic life - being autobiographical beyond coincidence. She managed to communicate her vision to the general public without saying a word but only through oil and paint.

Instead of being submissive, she fought in her own way for equality long before fighting for equality was a large scale movement and even longer before twitter and #MeToo became a thing. Her paintings show the strength of a woman and what women could do if they came together and stood as equals to men - an ideal that has for a long time for one of the pillars of the move for equality of genders.

Only she did it in the 17th century with a paintbrush instead of a computer.

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