(b. 1593, Roma, d. ca. 1653, Napoli)

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting

Oil on canvas, 96,5 x 73,7 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The painting is signed on the table in the centre: A.G.F.

Artemisia Gentileschi, the daughter of Orazio, was born in Rome. The chief formative influence on the style of her painting was her father, but after his departure for England in 1626 the only direct contact that she had with him was the few years she spent in London (1638-1641). Artemisia Gentileschi worked for long periods in Florence, Rome and Naples, as well as in Genoa and Venice. The style of Caravaggio with its emphasis on rich colouring and strong contrasts of light and shadow was deeply influential, but to this must be added knowledge of the work of Northern European artists active in Italy, and of regional differences in Italian art. While in London it is likely that Artemisia assisted her father just before his death with the painting of the Allegory of Peace and the Arts under the English Crown for the ceiling of The Queen's House at Greenwich (now in Marlborough House, London).

It is evident that Charles I owned at least three paintings by her. The present work was sold after the execution of the king in 1649, but was recovered at the time of the Restoration. Yet it would appear that Charles I did not commission the Allegory of Painting directly from the artist.

The identification of the figure is confirmed by a contemporary medal of the artist and by a print by Jerome David. The mode of the portrait, however, is allegorical and accords with the description of the personification of 'Painting' given in the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa (1611), where mention is made of a female figure with dishevelled hair, wearing a gold chain with a medallion in the form of a mask, and brightly coloured drapery. These attributes, however, have to be seen in conjunction with the pose: the figure is shown on a steep diagonal seen from below and is sharply lit from the left with the right arm raised in the act of painting. It has been argued that the artist, being a woman, was able to undertake a self portrait of greater significance than those of her male counterparts, who were often primarily concerned with extolling their social status. Taking advantage of the fact that 'Painting' was personified by a female figure, Artemisia Gentileschi has combined in her self-portrait the theoretical and practical concepts of painting while at the same time drawing attention to her paradoxical status as a female artist in seventeenth-century society. The portrait demonstrates that intellectual allusion alone does not in itself make a painter, but that it must be combined with application.