Women throughout history have often fought for their place in what's historically been a male dominated world. Forms of abuse or suppression from full participation in life are apt motivators toward rebellion of all kinds. For Artemisia Gentileschi like many other women artists the story isn't so different. Born in 1593 she was the eldest child of Orazio Gentileschi a Tuscan painter whos style took after Carravaggio. At an early age Artemisia was taken under her fathers wing and introduced to many artists in Rome. By the age of 17 she produced "Susanna and the Elders"
This is a biblical story from the book of Daniel which tells of two elders secretly watching Susanna bathe in her garden, then accosting and blackmailing her as she returns home. They threatened to testify that she was with a young man unless she agreed to sex with them. I think the painting is filled with emotion and pain as I look at it. I'm not sure you even need the background story to sense what's going on. Perhaps part of it's mastery can be attributed to the fact that it's not far from real life for Artemisia, who was a victim of rape by an art tutor and colleague of her fathers at the age of 18. The rape went to trial once her father found out and although the perpetrator was convicted he was later released by the judge. During the trial Artemesia faced further abuse having to endure torturous examinations to prove her testimony of virginity.
Artemesia married later and moved to Florence where she became a court painter and started to realize some success. Today she's considered one of the most accomplished painters in the time following Carravaggio. She was the first woman to become a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence. I appreciate the intense detail, as well as the emotional and violent undercurrents of her work. Given her experience I can't imagine it being any less than that. In thinking about it painting may have been the only venue to voice such inner pain, loss and trauma.