LOS ANGELES, CA.- The J. Paul Getty Museum
today announced the acquisition of a major work by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1654), the most celebrated woman painter of 17th-century Italy.
Recently rediscovered after having been in private collections for centuries, the painting represents the artist at the height of her expressive powers, and demonstrates her ambition for depicting historical subjects, something that was virtually unprecedented for a female artist in her day. The subject, which Gentileschi painted several times over the course of her career, no doubt had very personal significance for her: like Lucretia, the Roman heroine who took her own life after having been raped, Artemisia had experienced sexual violence as a young woman. In this painting Lucretia emerges from the shadows, eyes cast heavenward, head tilted back, breasts bare, at the moment before she plunges a dagger into her chest.
Although renowned in her day as a painter of outstanding ability, Artemisia suffered from the long shadow cast by her more famous and celebrated father Orazio Gentileschi (of whom the Getty has two major works, Lot and His Daughters and the recently acquired Danaë and the Shower of Gold), said Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. A thorough reassessment of her place in baroque art had to wait until the late 20th century, since when she has become one of the most sought-after painters of the 17th century. Her achievement as a painter of powerful and dramatic history subjects is all the more remarkable for the abuse and prejudice that she suffered in her personal lifeand which is palpably present in Lucretias suicide, and other of her paintings where the central protagonist is a wronged or abused woman. In this and many other ways, Artemisias Lucretia will open a window for our visitors onto important issues of injustice, prejudice, and abuse that lie below the beguilingly beautiful surfaces of such works.
According to the History of Rome (Book I, 57-59) by ancient Roman historian Livy, the legendary Lucretia was the virtuous wife of the nobleman Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. After her rape by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the King, she called on her father and her husband for vengeance and then, while proclaiming her innocence and chastity, stabbed herself to death. Her tragic gesture led to a rebellion that drove the Tarquins from Rome and marked the foundation of the Roman Republic. As an example of female strength and courage, Lucretia became a favorite subject in Renaissance and Baroque art, often depicted isolated in the moment just before she plunges the dagger in her chest.
There is evidence that Artemisia painted this Lucretia during her time in Venice in the late 1620s. With its swirling and exuberant drapery, and its free brushstrokes, the picture shows the profound engagement with the artistic legacy of 16th-century Venetian painting, especially with the female protagonists of paintings by Titian and Veronese. The painting also reflects Artemisias close contact with expatriates active in Venice in the 1620s, such as the French Nicolas Régnier, the German Johann Liss, and the Genoese Bernardo Strozzi.
In 1627, a pamphlet was printed containing a number of poems dedicated to four of Artemisias paintings executed in Venice: two on a self-portrait, one each on a Susanna and a Sleeping Cupid, and three on a Lucretia. The author was likely Giovanni Francesco Loredan, one of a close-knit group of writers, artists, musicians, librettists, and patrons who were associated with Artemisia during her Venetian sojourn. It is highly probable that the Gettys Lucretia is the same painting praised in the poems published in Venice in 1627.
With the discovery of new documents and the emergence of new paintings, our understanding of Artemisias art has become much more complex and nuanced in the last 20 years. This recently rediscovered work sheds a new light on a crucial and hitherto overlooked moment of her career, when the painter is transitioning from the Caravaggism that had been the hallmark of her formative years to a more graceful and idealized manner which will characterize her maturity, said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. Lucretia is a powerful and compelling example of Artemisias most significant type of subject, the representation of dynamic female figures which appear in control of their own destiny; but with its lyrical and sophisticated expressivity, its creamy impasto and vibrant brushwork, the painting is also suggestive of new directions in her artistic itinerary.
Lucretia will be on view when the Getty Museum reopens to the public in the coming weeks.