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Self-Portrait as a Lute Player
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More about Self-Portrait as a Lute Player

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Artemisia Gentileschi's Self portrait with Lute, since its "public debut" at Sotheby's in 1998, has carried the title Self Portrait as a Lute Player (Autoritratto come suonatrice di liuto).

In 2014, the Wadsworth Atheneum paid more than $3 million for this painting. Blogger Alain R. Truong publishes sources linking the work to the years 1616-17, during Artemisia's time in Firenze, based on the Florentine luxuriousness of Artemisia's gold-embroidered outfit, complete with a high-quality turban and sash. Scholars suggest that Artemisia did this work on commission for the Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, as it is listed in a 1638 inventory of the Villa Medici of Artimino. There's no word yet as to how, exactly, a major work by the great Artemisia could escape curatorial and critical notice for 360 years. Despite Artemisia's fame and success during her lifetime, nobody bothered to dedicate a real monograph to her until Mary Garrard's 1989 work, which exposes much of the centuries-old habit among historians to misattribute women's artworks to male artists. 

For critic-biographers and curators, the low-cut bodice of this Autoritratto can present a dilemma regarding Artemisia's so-called "moral reputation," the focus on which is just another way of attacking the artist for her original sin of having been born female. For all we know about the work and her early married life, the bodice is to facilitate breastfeeding, and the irony of the work, from the artist's perspective, would be the tension between her domestic and professional life. We know that one of Artemisia's children, a painter named Prudentia ("Prudence"), survived, and she was born right around the same time as the release of this work, so this explanation seems likely.

Original letters in Artemisia's hand demonstrate that she didn't take no guff from nobody, but she managed to coat her necessarily firm and protective demeanor with a thick pastel candy coating in order to avoid raising the hackles of her tender-egoed, aristocratic patrons. Over three decades after this work, when in her mid-to-late fifties, Artemisia begins a letter to a patron with the mid-seventeenth-century equivalent of "this isn't a secure line": "In case the gentleman carrying this letter decides to read it, I prefer not to discuss our business." In order to do a painting for you, I'm gonna need a deposit, she reminds him, before begging him, for the sake of the Almighty, to pay her the price she asked if he wants a work of decent quality. "I swear, as your servant, that I would not even give it to my father for the price I gave you." In one of the most dramatic sign-offs possible, Artemisia reassures "His Most Illustrious Lordship" that he will "suffer no loss" investing in her, and that he'd be sure to find "the spirit of Caesar in the soul of a woman (ritrovera uno animo di Cesare nell’anima duna donna)"! Luckily, the spirit of Brutus wasn't incarnated anywhere near Artemisia. 

Sources

Sources

  1. Archivio di Stato, Florence. Guardaroba Medicea 532, Inventario della Villa di Artimino 1638, fol. 16v.
  2. "Autoritratto come suonatrice di liuto," Finestre sull'Arte, Mar. 21, 2016, https://www.finestresullarte.info/operadelgiorno/2016/493-artemisia-gent....
  3. DeLamotte, Eugenia C., Natania Meeker, and Jean F. O'Barr. Women Imagine Change: A Global Anthology of Women's Resistance from 600 B.C.E. to Present. New York: Psychology Press, 1997.
  4. Garrard, Mary D. Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  5. Greenberger, Alex. "Artemisia Gentileschi Made History with 17th-Century Feminist Art…" ARTnews, Apr. 6, 2020, https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/artemisia-gentileschi-most-famo....
  6. Jullion, Marie-Christine, Clara Bulfoni, and Virginia Sica. Al di là del cliché: rappresentazioni multiculturali e transgeografiche del femminile. Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2012.
  7. Truong, Alain R. "Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player." Alain Truong, Jan. 10, 2014, http://www.alaintruong.com/archives/2014/01/10/28914929.html.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Self-Portrait as a Lute Player

Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is a painting by the Italian baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. Executed between 1616 and 1618, it hangs in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, US.

Description

The artist depicts herself in the guise of a "gypsy-musician", denoted by the headscarf and low-cut blouse; these style of entertainers would have appeared at Italian court performances. The accurate depiction of the lute as well as the finger positioning has led historians to believe that the artist had first-hand experience with the instrument. The composition is closely related to two other contemporaneous depictions of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, which suggests that the artist was using her self-portraits as a means of establishing her reputation in Florence.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Self-Portrait as a Lute Player.