One of the first female artists to achieve recognition in her own time, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) became instantly popular in the 1970s when feminist art historians “discovered” her and argued vehemently for a place for her in the canon of Italian baroque painters. Featured alongside her father, Orazio Gentileschi, in a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Artemisia has continued to stir interest—though her position in the canon remains precarious, in part because her sensationalized life history has overshadowed her art.
In The Artemisia Files, Mieke Bal and a distinguished group of contributors look squarely at this early icon of feminist art history and the question of her status as an artist. Here, Artemisia emerges more fully as a highly original artist whose work is greater than the sum of the events that have traditionally defined her life and reputation, such as her relationship to her father and her role as the victim in a highly publicized rape case during which she was tortured into giving evidence. The six essays in The Artemisia Files offer a new critical assessment of Artemisia’s work by devising a variety of approaches that amend past injustices and reconsider the artist and her work from many different angles, including the question of attribution, critical judgment, personal confrontation, Artemisia’s historical context, the exhibition of her work, and popular recastings of her story. The fresh, engaging discourse in The Artemisia Files will help to both revive the reputation of this artist on the merit of her work and establish her rightful place in the history of art.