Artemisia in the Role of Suzanna
Artemisia is a film released on May 8, 1998, directed by Agnes Merlet. The movie is a historical drama based on the life story of Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman artist to achieved some level of success as a painter during the seventeenth 17th century. The role of Artemisia was performed by an Italian Actress, Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault as Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia’s father, and Miki Manojlovic as Tassi Agostino. The movie tells the story of her youth , theand the way her father guided and protected her. “As a promising young female artist, access to the male nude was forbidden to her; her professional curiosity about the anatomy of the male body led to the knowledge of sexual pleasure.”1
As the daughter of an influential Italian painter known as Orazio Gentileschi, at a
very young age, Artemisia shows promise as an artist.
At 17 years old, Artemisia wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, but the convent where she attends school forbids students to sketch nude models. Very eager to learn she began using herself as her model by posing in front of a mirror. Her father discovers her ability is very enthusiastic about her work takes her out school and began tutoring her in painting and drawing.2
Even though her father also forbids her to draw the nude models, curious Artemisia, nonetheless, pursue a friend to model for her by allowing him to kiss herfor a kiss.” . In the movie, her ability as an artist is shown as remarkable as she was exceptionally trained by her father. Later on, because Artemisia excelled in all her training, her father then tried to enroll her in the academy, but because she was a woman the academy refused her.3.4
As Artemisia’s work improved steadily so does her eagerness to learn. She seeks Agostino Tassi a friend of her father who is a well-known painter to teach her, but Tassi even though impressed by her work refused. Later on, Tassi became her teacher after Artemisia’s father spoke to him. The movie shows Artemisia being fascinated by her teacher and depicts their relationship as a romantic one. The sexual scene between Tassi and Artemisia shows a horrified Artemisia when Tassi takes her virginity, it does not portray Artemisia as a victim of sexual assault. It instead shows a girl horrified in discovering the pain behind having sex for the first time. When Artemisia’s father became aware of their affair, Tassi is brought to trial for deflowering his daughter as mentioned in her biography. Although the movie appears to tell the story of her youth, by examining the way it portrays her relationship with Tassi, we can see that the movie completely overlooks and undermine the tragic experience that Artemisia went through, which is important because as a woman in the seventeenth century, her reputation was ruined. “She was dishonored, tortured, and as well as her image which was underpinned by the rape trial. Throughout history Artemisia continued to be strongly defined by her sexuality.”6
The movie portrayed her relationship with Agostino Tassi, best known as her rapist, as a romantic one instead of a sexual assault. It portrays her in the same image that male Artists portrayed Suzanna in many paintings of the story of Susanna and the elders. In many paintings, Suzanna is portrayed as a willing participant and inviting the act, the painting of Suzanna and the Elders by an Italian painter Alessandro Allori for example. This painting shows a “flirtatious and coyly” Artemisia cozy up the elders. The scene seems “consensual”, Artemisia here does not look “uncomfortable or repulsed” by the elders’ demand. In fact, she seems very “comfortable, enjoying and appreciating the attention from the elders.”7 Unlike Artemisia’s version of Suzanna and the Elders, this painting portrays Suzanna willing to compromise with her head thrown back. Her body language gives no indication of a woman in distress. Whereas, Artemisia’s version really represents “the anguish of the woman fighting to get away from the elders.” Mary Garrard according to her book titled “Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art”, she discusses Artemisia’s version of Susanna and the elders. She stated, “what the painting gives us is a reflection, not of the rape itself, but rather what one young woman felt about her own sexual vulnerability in the year of 1610.”8 Artemisia’s representation of Suzanna and the Elders really “captured Suzanna’s pain in being forced to choose between rape and death.”9 Artemisia captured Suzanna’s emotion in a way that was ignored in the seventeenth century.
In the film, the way Tassi is portrayed as equal to Orazio and Artemisia, “at first as a reluctant lover, then as a flawed but a distraught noble character who protects Artemisia by accepting the false charge of rape” is a complete disregard to her tragic experience, when in fact he was a minor painter. “Tassi’s own art is second rank, no rivalry to Artemisia or her father.”10 In his real testimony, he accused Artemisia of sleeping repeatedly with several men and even incest with her father. “His testimony was so blatantly and false that the judge had asked him to stop on several occasions.” According to the testimony, “Over a seven-month period, he continually referred to her as a whore who catered to a continual stream, of men.”11 Artemisia’s own version of representing the elders does not portray the villains as the movie portray Tassi. In fact, the way she depicts the two elders clearly shows them for what they are.12
The movie’s representation of her relationship with Tassi really ignored Artemisia’s emotion and portrayed her as being smitten with her teacher and forming a connection with him through his teaching of perspectives. When in fact, “Artemisia art had nothing to do with landscape, she hired other artist to paint the landscape background in her pictures.” The director as a woman, ignores Artemisia version of her own story and was “widely criticize for the historical inaccuracies” in the movie.13 Unlike the painting of the artist itself, the movie does not show the realness of the situation Artemisia was in, nor her vulnerability as a woman facing a situation as she did in the year of 1610. It focused instead on an imaginary love story in which there was no evidence existed between the two.
1 Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 4, 2017. http://www.oxfordartonline.com.scsu.idm.oclc.org/subscriber/article/grove/art/T031374pg2.
2 Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the female hero in Italian baroque art. Accessed December 03,2017.
4 Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the female hero in Italian baroque art. Accessed December 03,2017.
5 Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the female hero in Italian baroque art. Accessed December 03,2017.
6 Poggiali, Sylvia. “Long Seen as Victim, 17th Century Italian Painter Emerges as Feminist Icon.” NPR. December 12, 2016. Accessed December 04, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/12/12/504821139/long-seen-as-victim-17th-century-italian-painter-emerges-as-feminist-icon.
7 Kelsey MT, “Artemisia Gentileschi: Painting Female Protagonists,” More Than Three Women Artists, September 14, 2015. Accessed December 20, 2017, https://morethanthreeartists.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/artemisia-gentileschi-painting-female-protagonists/.
8 Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the female hero in Italian baroque art, Pg. 208.
9 Griselda Pollock, “The Female Hero and the Making of a Feminist Canon Artemisia Gentileschi’s representation of Susanna and Judith.” Accessed December 18, 2017.
10 “Artemisia Gentileschi in the Movies.” ON ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI. Accessed December 20, 2017. http://members.efn.org/~acd/Artemisia.html.
11 “FEMINISM IN ART: ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI.” RCL E WING. Accessed December 04, 2017. http://sites.psu.edu/ewingrcl/2016/02/11/feminism-in-art-artemisia-gentileschi/
11 Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi the Image of the female hero in Italian baroque art. Accessed December 03,2017.
13 “Artemisia Gentileschi in the Movies.” ON ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI. Accessed December 20, 2017. http://members.efn.org/~acd/Artemisia.html.