Thread Tales interviews Letizia Treves, curator of the Artemisia exhibition at the National Gallery, London, to uncover the woman behind the canvas.
Heroine of the 17th-century Italian art scene. Unparalleled charisma. Astonishing skills. And a confidence in herself that inspired (and still inspires) generations of women after her. Artemisia Gentileschi is the undiscussed protagonist of her namesake exhibition at the National Gallery, London.
We caught up with Letizia Treves, the curator of the Artemisia exhibition, to reveal the many layers that make up this celebrated, yet mysterious muse.
Tell us more about the choice of hosting an exhibition dedicated to Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery. Why her? Why now?
The exhibition came about because of the National Gallery’s acquisition of Artemisia’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria in 2018. There has been an increasing interest in Artemisia’s life and work in the last 20 years or so, but this is the first exhibition dedicated to her in the UK
What has been the greatest learning in the process of curating this exhibition?
On a personal level, I have got to know Artemisia – as a woman and as an artist – more and more. I’ve read all her letters and looked really carefully at her paintings for over 2 years now, and I have a much clearer sense of what kind of artist she was, what her personality was like and, most importantly, how incredibly challenging it was to be female painter in the 17th century when women were subjected to considerable social and legal restrictions.
I hope visitors will have a clear sense of Artemisia, through her pictures and her words (there are some of her handwritten letters on display in the exhibition), and that she will finally be recognised as one of the leading artists of the Italian Baroque period (irrespective of the fact that she was a woman).Artemisia was an entrepreneur, an artist and an activist. What can the modern woman of today take/learn from Artemisia?
Artemisia was, in many ways, a pioneer; becoming the first woman to be accepted as a member of the artists’ academy in Florence. She was a feminist in the truest sense of the word (before the term ‘feminist’ had even been coined) – her letters reveal her determination to be considered on a par with male artists of her time. Today she is heralded as a feminist icon; an inspirational figure of resilience and unbowed creativity in the face of exceptionally challenging odds.
Though the gallery may now be temporarily closed, you can enjoy a virtual tour of the Artemisia exhibition on the NationalGallery’s Instagram account.
Wishing to take some of Artemisia’s confidence with you? You can shop our handmade masks, embroidered with two of her most powerful affirmations, from the National Gallery’s online shop.