Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome, on July 8, 1593, the first child of the painter Orazio Gentileschi. She was introduced to painting in her father's workshop, showing much more talent than her brothers. She learned drawing, how to mix color and how to paint. Her style was heavily influenced by Caravaggio, since her father's style took inspiration from Caravaggio during that period.
The first work of the young 17-years old Artemisia was the 'Susanna and the Elders'. The picture shows how Artemisia assimilated the realism of Caravaggio without being indifferent to the language of the Bologna school.
In 1612, despite her early talent, Artemisia was denied access to the all-male professional academies for art. At the time, her father was working with Agostino Tassi, so he hired the Tuscan painter to tutor his daughter privately. The unfortunate effect was that Artemisia was raped by Tassi. Even though Tassi initially promised to marry Artemisia in order to restore her reputation, he later reneged on his promise and was reported to the authorities.
During the trial Artemisia was given a gynecological examination and was tortured to corroborate the truth of her allegation in the belief that if a person can tell the same story under torture as without it, the story must be true. At the end of the trial Tassi was imprisoned for just one year. This trial subsequently influenced the feminist view of Artemisia Gentileschi during the 20th century. The painting representing Judith decapitating Holofernes is impressive for the violence portrayed, and was interpreted as psychological revenge for the violence she had suffered.
After the trial, in order to restore her honor, her father arranged her to marry Pierantonio Stiattesi, a modest artist from Florence. Shortly afterwards the couple moved to Florence, where Artemisia received a commission for a painting at Casa Buonarroti and became a successful court painter.
Whilst in Florence, Artemisia and Pierantonio had four sons and one daughter.
In Florence, Artemisia enjoyed huge success. She was the first woman to have the privilege of being accepted into the Academy of Drawing. She was also able to maintain good relations with the most respected artists of her time, and to be able to conquer the favours and the protection of influential people. She was in good relationship with Galileo Galilei with whom she remained in epistolary contact for a long time.
Despite the success, due to an excess of expenses by her and her husband, the Florentine period was full of problems with both creditors and her husband. These problems lead to her returning to Rome in 1621.
Artemisia arrived in Rome the same year her father Orazio departed for Genoa. She tried to find a home to raise her daughters. Artemisia tried, with almost no success, to teach them the art of painting.
Rome in that period was highly influenced by the style of Caravaggio. Artemisia joined the Academy of Desiosi. Despite her artistic reputation, her strong personality and her good relationships, staying in Rome was not as lucrative as she hoped. The appreciation of her art was narrowed down to portraits. She no longer got the rich commissions of fresco paintings and altars.
Between 1627 and 1630 she moved to Venice, perhaps in search of richer commissions. In 1630 Artemisia moved to Naples, a city rich with workshops and art lovers, in search of new and more lucrative job opportunities. Later she permanently relocated to Naples and stayed there for the rest of her life. Naples was for Artemisia some kind of second homeland where she took care of her family. She received letters of appreciation and started relations with many renowned artists.
In 1638 Artemisia joined her father in London at the court of Charles I of England, where he became court painter and received the important job of decorating a ceiling. After so much time, father and daughter were again working together. Orazio suddenly died in 1639.
Artemisia had an autonomous activity which she continued to follow for a while even after the her father's death.
Artemisia died in 1653.