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Artemisia Gentileschi (Rome 1593-Naples 1652)

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) c.1638-9

Oil on canvas | 98.6 x 75.2 cm | RCIN 405551

Cumberland Art Gallery, Bedchamber, Hampton Court Palace

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Artemisia Gentileschi was invited to London in 1638 by Charles I, and probably produced this sophisticated and accomplished self-portrait in England. She holds a brush in one hand and a palette in the other, cleverly identifying herself as the female personification of painting - something her male contemporaries could never do.

It was probably during her brief English sojourn (1638-c.1641) that Artemisia Gentileschi produced this painting. She was invited in 1638 by Charles I to come to London to join her father, Orazio Gentilieschi, who had been working in England since 1626. On one level the work depicts an allegorical figure of Painting, and was described as such in Charles I's inventory. Artemisia follows the standard emblematic handbook of the period, the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, where Painting is described as 'a beautiful woman, with full black hair, dishevelled, and twisted in various ways, with arched eyebrows that show imaginative thought, the mouth covered with a cloth tied behind her ears, with a chain of gold at her throat from which hangs a mask, and has written in front 'imitation''. Artemisia captures the essentials of this description, leaving out the inscription on the mask and the gagged mouth, intended to symbolise that Painting is dumb. With clothes of evanescently coloured drapery, she holds a brush in one hand and a palette in the other. The work is also, however, a self-portrait: as a woman artist, Artemisia identifies herself as the female personification of Painting. There are precedents for this conflation of identities in representations of female artists. The portrait medal struck by Felice Antonio Casoni, celebrating the Cremonese painter Lavinia Fontana, depicts on the obverse a profile portrait of the artist, while on the reverse appears an allegory of Painting. Artemisia here fuses two established visual traditions within a single image.

  • Creator(s)

    Artemisia Gentileschi (Rome 1593-Naples 1652) (artist)

  • 98.6 x 75.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    114.5 x 90.4 x 7.6 cm (frame, external)

  • Self-portrait as La Pittura

    Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3)

  • Recorded by the Trustees of the Sales of Charles I in October 1649, at Hampton Court; sold to Jackson and others on 23 October 1651; recovered at the Restoration

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