Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge. V is for Vreeland.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Renaissance had gifted its tremendous artistic outpouring to the people of Italy. Artists in particular benefitted from this boon, the accumulated greatness of the masters that came before them. Michaelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, and all the other greats had left their mark to inspire those who came after them. But they were all men, and Artemisia Gentileschi, daughter of a great painter, aspires to be a master herself. The burden of her gender, however, may make her dreams impossible.

Artemisia's trials begin in a court - in a case brought by her father against his friend and partner, who raped her. But in the end it is Artemisia's honor that is in question, and the humiliation she endures in court will haunt her for life. Scorned, Artemisia leaves Rome for Florence, a city she hopes will nourish her ambition to be a reknowned artist.

Vreeland writes with tremendous sympathy for her characters and draws a compelling tale. The story rarely lets up, although from a distance, the drama may appear slight. She deepens the narrative with themes of forgiveness and the cruelty of choice, even if at times her discussions of these become a little heavy-handed. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful book, rendering brilliantly the dynamic Italian world at the time of Gallileo and Cosimo de Medici, and enshrining in the reader's heart the brave and talented Artemisia Gentileschi. (The painting here is a self-portrait completed by the real Artemisia Lomi, or Gentileschi.)

1 comment:

Heather said...

If you enjoyed this, you may also be interested in Alexandra Lapierre's Artemisia. Lapierre is a biographer, and the book is a curious blend of novel and biography (in fact, it was sold as nonfiction in the UK, and fiction in the U.S.). She draws a lot of the story and dialogue from the actual court documents of Artemisia's lawsuit against her rapist, but the story is also told from inside Artemisia's head, so in the end I agree with the classification as a novel. Anyway, I really enjoyed it, and have always meant to get around to reading Vreeland's book so I could compare the two.

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Princess Nijma