The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland (2002)



Having finished Blood, Water, Paint, a powerful verse novel about Artemisia Gentileschi, the 17th c painter who publicly accused her rapist, a friend recommended The Passion of Artemisia, which opens with the trial but goes on to portray the rest of her life as a painter and mother. The story takes us to Florence, Genoa, Venice, and then back to Rome, her birth city, showing her struggles and triumphs as a female painter in a male-dominated world. As well, she’s a single mother. The man and painter she married—the only person who would have her after she had been raped by her teacher at age 17–only wanted her dowry and remained faithful to her for about a night. Daughter in tow, she moved from Florence to Genoa—where her work was supported by a patron—living the life of a professional woman and single mother. In so many ways, not much has changed in 400 years, and that was a favorite aspect of the book: watching her navigate this artist world with grit. I’m no fan of Baroque art, but I looked at her paintings, and I have a new appreciation for the story behind each, her interpretation/approach to each person, her decisions about color and shading, and her empathy for the historical and biblical characters she painted.

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