September 29, 2020
National Gallery, London
Artemisia Gentileschi took revenge on her rapist – and the chaotic battlefield of her life – through shockingly violent works. This magnificent show finally secures her reputation as one of the greats
This revolutionary exhibition of the work of a forgotten genius is like being on a film set, with the actors right in your face, and the lights revealing who they really are deep down inside. Bodies rush towards you out of the canvas, anguished faces, huge hands, explosions of blood. It’s a thrill ride from beginning to end, a Scorsese film shot in 17th-century Italy’s meanest streets, and it starts with a blow right to the heart.
In 1610, the year she turned 17, Artemisia, daughter of the moderately successful artist Orazio Gentileschi, painted a blinding masterpiece in her bedroom. Susanna and the Elders lights a fire in your soul. Susanna sits naked on a grey stone seat, her left foot dipping into the clear waters of a pool she’s just bathed in. But as she rests there, two looming male figures force themselves into the confined space of the canvas. These creeps don’t just spy on Susanna, they push right up close to her.