The bare-chested woman holds a dagger to her bosom. Her sorrowful face, cast in shadows, looks heavenward. The painting, titled "Lucretia" in honor of the Roman heroine who killed herself after being raped, is made more poignant because it was created around 1627 by Artemisia Gentileschi, herself a victim of sexual violence. The artist — long overlooked — now is considered the most consequential female painter of 17th century Italy.
The Getty Museum on Monday announced that it had acquired the painting from an undisclosed seller and that the work will be on view when the museum reopens to the public. The Getty has not announced a reopening date but indicated Monday it would be "in the coming weeks."
Gentileschi's life story is as fascinating as it was fraught, and her disappearance on the radar of art history until the early 20th century speaks to the sexism of the art world. She achieved fame in her day, but not without great difficulties. She lived for a time in Florence where she was supported by the Medici family and experienced notable personal success. In 1616 she became the first woman to gain membership to the Accademia del Disegno, the first true art academy, after which she cultivated an international clientele.
Born in 1593, Gentileschi was the daughter of celebrated painter Orazio Gentileschi. She studied under his guidance as a young girl. His legacy cast a shadow on her work, which was initially steeped in the style of Caravaggio.
The defining moment of her life came in 1611 when at 17 she was raped by the landscape painter Agostino Tassi, who was working with Gentileschi's father on the vaults of Casino delle Muse inside the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome. Gentileschi held Tassi accountable in the trial, during which she was tortured using thumbscrews in an effort to ensure the veracity of her account. Tassi was convicted and sentenced to banishment, but the punishment never was carried out.
"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 life — and which is palpably present in Lucretia’s suicide, and other of her paintings where the central protagonist is a wronged or abused woman," said Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts in the announcement. "In this and many other ways, Artemisia’s '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.”
In the 1970s Gentileschi caught the attention of feminists when art historian Linda Nochlin explored her work in part of an article titled, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.