The gender equality debate and the #metoo movement has took central stage in the public debate in the last few years. And it’s a common assumption that only recently women started to fight to be recognized as equals to men. And yet it’s a debate that it’s at least four hundreds years old. Isn’t it amazing how little has changed in four hundreds years?
When I first learned about Artemisia Gentileschi I was surprised I had never heard of her, not even in my school years where History of Art was one of the subjects I had to do. No one had mentioned her, otherwise I would have remembered. When I looked at the paintings I was in awe. Her heroines were speaking to me through the canvasses. Their expressions were real, and I could understand what they were thinking. They were masterpieces that deserved the recognition of Caravaggio’s not only in the technique, but also in the revolutionary act of treating the female figures not just as pretty naked woman to be admired, but as fierce and courageous women who think and feel.
Artemisia’s story drew me in for it’s connection with our modern world. Reading through the rape trial of 1612 it’s impossible not to draw a comparison with how rape victims are treated nowadays: they’ve asked for it, they wanted it anyway, “is it really true?”. But what was most interesting was discovering that in the 17th Century the debate on gender equality was as alive as today.
In 1600, the Venetian author Lucrezia Marinella published The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men, and the querelle des femmes was fierce and fisty, using the same arguments we find in the sufraggettes’s speeches few centuries later, and used by women today.
Now female artist are finally getting more recognition. More often than not we look at Artemisia’s paintings in relation to her rape, and are interpreted as a revenge towards her raspist Agostino Tassi. No matter how powerful her Art is, it’s overshadowed by the action of a man that without Artemisia would have been long forgotten.
Artemisia’s paintings are powerful, and she’s the first woman who dares paint the same subjects that male artist paint all the time. She measure her talent with that of men without fear, but she’s treated as a second class artist because of her gender.
Artemisia’s life after the rape is even more interesting than the trial we can find published now. She proves to be a strong, powerful woman who is not afraid to live independently. She is the head of the household, the one that supports her two daughter and her husband through her work. She’s witty and very clever in how she markets herself within the Arts Industry of the time. She travels to all the major courts of Europe and she manages to find a man to love, and that loves her back for who she is. She lives a free life in a time where women had very little freedom.
The play will focus on this story, on Artemisia the talented Superstar, and not Artemisia, the victim of rape who managed to paint.