“…as I have already stated, I trusted him, and I had no reason to believe he would dare hurt me or do me any wrong given his friendship with my father; and I didn’t understand when […] he drew near to rape me.” Artemisia

Artemisa Lomi Gentileschi : la sua dichiarazione in tribunale

“Serrò la camera a chiave e dopo serrata mi buttò su la sponda del letto dandomi con una mano sul petto, mi mise un ginocchio fra le cosce ch’io non potessi serrarle et alzatomi li panni, che ci fece grandissima fatiga per alzarmeli, mi mise una mano con un fazzoletto alla gola et alla bocca acciò non gridassi e le mani quali prima mi teneva con l’altra mano mi le lasciò, havendo esso prima messo tutti doi li ginocchi tra le mie gambe et appuntendomi il membro alla natura cominciò a spingere e lo mise dentro. E li sgraffignai il viso e li strappai li capelli et avanti che lo mettesse dentro anco gli detti una stretta al membro che gli ne levai anco un pezzo di carne…”
Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi : her statement in court

“He locked the door, and afterwards he threw me down on the edge of the bed, his hand on my breast. He put one knee between my thighs so that I could not close them, and, lifting my skirts, which took much effort to do,  he put one hand with a handkerchief around my throat and mouth so that I could not scream. And he let go of my hands, which he had been holding with his other hand, for he had already put both knees between my thighs. He placed his male member against my nature, and, pushing, he forced it inside me. And I scratched his face and ripped out his hair and before he was able to put it inside me, I so squeezed it that I was even able to tear off a piece of flesh…”

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2020

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi. – Painter (Rome 1597 – Naples 1652 ca.). Pupil of her father Orazio Lomi Gentileschi, she worked in Florence, Rome, and Florence, and, finally, after 1630, in Naples where she returned after having worked for a time in London. She was an excellent portraitist, but also  painted numerous religious and biblical scenes, for example, Judith and Holofernes, which is violently expressive. In the painting Artemisia portrays two strong, young women working together, sleeves rolled up,  eyes focused; and Judith is leaning on the bed, pressing Holofernes’s head down with one hand and pulling a sword through his neck with the other.

Scholars believe that in this portrayal of Judith and Abra, Artemisia identified with the protagonist both for her gender and the fact that Artemisia was raped by the artist Agostino Tassi.

In 1611, in fact, her father, Orazio, decided to entrust her to the artistic teachings of his friend Agostino Tassi (an expert in trompe-l’œil , which was still an experimental method at the time). Orazio Gentileschi greatly respected Tassi and often invited him to his home where he lived with his daughter. Tassi was immediately attracted to the very young Artemisia, and when she refused his advances for the umpteenth time, he took advantage of the fact that her father was not home and raped her.

Her father denounced the fact to Pope Paul V, and a historical trial was held: it would give rise to great public debate. Artemisia Gentileschi, who had dared rebel against the abuse, would be herself put on trial by the defense lawyer who portrayed her as: “a loose woman who would often lean out the window to attract young boys.” In the 17th century, Rome was a place where the victims of rape were tortured to prove they were telling the truth. It was meant to “purify her from the dishonour she had borne”. Artemisia was subjected to the “tormento dei sibilli”, which was doubly dangerous for the artist because it involved tied her wrists to keep the woman from writhing and moving. Cords were woven through her fingers, which were tied together, and then a thumbscrew would crush the fingers. With every turn of the thumbscrew, the victim’s fingers would bloat and the blood would stop circulating there. It could sometimes cause permanent damage, but was considered the only way to “amend the victim’s guilt”.

Painting: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith beheading Holofernes, 1611-12, oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.