Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi > Larry's Report on the Artemisia Exhibition in Milan

Larry's Report on the Artemisia Exhibition in Milan

Prior to my family's trip to Italy from 30th December 2011 to 23rd January 2012, I planned to see as many of Caravaggio's and Artemisia's paintings as possible.

Our itinerary includes almost a week in Rome, 6 days in Sorrento, 4 days in Florence, 3 days in Venice, then returning to Rome for one evening before flying back to Australia.

Prior to leaving for Italy, I had heard about the special exhibition of Artemisia's work in Milan, which would take place during our trip to Italy. Milan was not on our itinerary, but I worked out that we could get a fast train to Milan from Florence that would take less than 75 minutes.

I had managed to see about a dozen of Caravaggio's works in Rome (several churches and the Galleria Borgese) and the Uffizi in Florence. I soon realised that none of Artemisia's works would be found in Rome, Naples or Florence, and that they were all likely to be in Milan.

The Artemisia exhibition was taking place at the Palazzo Reale, just a short walk from La Scala, near the impressive Duomo. We bought tickets and entered the gallery which was dimly lit in red light and it took a few minutes for one's eyes to adjust. The lighting was in tune with the theme of the exhibition "Storia di una passione" (Story of a passion). I had no clear idea of how many of her works there would be and whether there would be works of other related artists.

I quickly realised that this was a monumental exhibition consisting of more than 40 of her paintings, in roughly chronological order and included works by her father, Orazio, Aurelio Lomi, and Simon Vouet (a portrait of Artemisia c. 1623-26).

Her works included some of my favourite Judith paintings: both the Naples and Uffizi versions of the Beheading of Holofernes, as well as Judith and her maidservant. Her Jael and Sisera was also there. All are impressive canvasses close up. Comparing the Naples and Uffiz versions of the beheading of Holofernes, the later Uffizi version is the superior of the two and in better condition.

There were quite a number of portraits, including ones that I knew well, such as the Gonfaloniere, but a few that I had never seen before. There were several Magdelenes, including ones from the Marc A. Seidner Collection, Los Angeles and Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

The series of church painting originally for churches in Naples were particularly impressive with the huge size and execution, including The Adoration of the Magi and The Martyrdom of St Januarius and one other not on this website. Several of her allegorical works were also on display, including Minerva and Clio, Muse of History.

There were several paintings that I had never seen before in books on Artemisia, and several paintings where atributions to Artemisia had been questioned, but were including as accepted attributions.

In addition, Artemisia's family tree was displayed and including a suggestion that she had a further child after the breakup of her marriage to her husband, and an un-named priest was thought to be the child's father. There were also copies of her letters to various dignitaries asking about commissions.

Sadly, there were some paintings that I had hoped might have been present, but were not, in particular Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I concluded by buying a beautifully presented book on the exhibition (unfortunately only available in Italian). It included a documentary on a DVD (with English subtitles), which included informative comments from Mary Garrard and Alexandra Lapierre, and others.

I hope that we can add some more of her paintings to the website in coming months.

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