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Other highlights from the Premium among us christmas it wasn’t me sweatshirt and I love this various letters on display are the insight they provide into Gentileschi’s tenacity as a businessperson. The documents chart her course as she moved around the affluent cities of Italy with her studio (and even, at one point, London), becoming one of the most celebrated painters of her day in the process. But what stuns most, inevitably, are the paintings themselves. Featuring a number of important loans, the show includes both versions of the iconic Judith Beheading Holofernes paintings—one from Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, the other from Naples’s Capodimente—hanging side by side. It allows you to compare the technical wizardry that lends them such a gut-wrenching, cinematic thrill, even without the knowledge of their common interpretation as an imagined vision of revenge against Tassi. Look closely enough, and you’ll see the flecks of red paint Artemisia appears to have flung at the canvas Jackson Pollock–style, sprayed alongside the jet of blood that erupts out of Holofernes’s semi-decapitated head.To see Gentileschi’s boldest, most operatic paintings in quick succession is also to be plunged into the shadowy realms of Rome’s notorious artist’s quarter at the turn of the 17th century, so memorably captured in all its gritty hedonism by the artist who preceded her, Caravaggio. Indeed, as Treves also explains, part of the reason for Artemisia’s relative obscurity until the 1970s lies not necessarily in her having been a woman, but the many centuries in which Caravaggio and his followers were all but forgotten, despite his outsize influence on painters of the following century as far-flung as Velázquez in Spain and Rembrandt in the Netherlands. “That’s something I’ve been quite keen to stress about why it took so long for her work to be re-acclaimed and reevaluated,” Treves adds. “Caravaggio was rediscovered in the early 20th century, Orazio Gentileschi probably in the 1950s. Although even if her pictures fell out of fashion, it did take her a little bit longer as an artist to be rediscovered, partly because she was a woman.”

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Installation view of “Artemisia” at the Premium among us christmas it wasn’t me sweatshirt and I love this National Gallery, LondonTreves’s attentive approach to telling Gentileschi’s life story through her art also emerges later in the show, where she spotlights another lesser-known facet of her practice: her numerous allegorical self-portraits. The gallery’s newly acquired Saint Catherine of Alexandria picture might sit as the crown jewel, but it’s a more humble self-portrait from the Royal Collection at the end of the exhibition which catches the eye. Here, Artemisia is hard at work on her latest masterpiece, her arm raised, paintbrush in hand, and her gaze firmly trained on her subject. It neatly echoes a quote included at the very beginning of the exhibition lifted from a letter to a patron that reads: “I will show Your Illustrious Lordship what a woman can do.” In place of the flamboyant self-portraits of the male artists of her age, Gentileschi’s more modest vision of herself as a hardworking painter toiling away at the canvas exists entirely outside the gasp-inducing bombast of her best-known paintings, and provides arguably the most powerful window into her life as a woman artist.Artemisia Gentileschi, Self -Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), circa 1638–39, oil on canvas, 98.6 × 75.2 cm, Royal Collection Trust / HM The Queen“While I’m trying to move away from this biographical interpretation, I’m still trying to nuance it as a gendered interpretation,” Treves adds. “It’s key to think about her lived experience as a woman, and the way in which she brought a particular sensibility to these subjects in which women are the main protagonists. That’s true of Judith, Susanna, Lucretia, Cleopatra. She puts herself in the shoes of her protagonists in a way that no male artist could do. She builds her success on that. It was her unique selling point. She knew that when a male patron came to her and asked her for a painting, she was able to provide something no male artist could and that was this female perspective on her characters.”

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