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Artemisia by Anna Banti  My lesson is divided in two parts: in the first I

Artemisia by Anna Banti

My lesson is divided in two parts: in the first I will illustrate the book that art historian Anna Banti wrote in 1947 on Artemisia Gentileschi . In the second part I will present a few of the pictures by the this artist. Banti’s book’s working hypothesis is that this great painter managed, by means of her art and by creating her paintings, to overcome the trauma and violence of rape.

The difficulty of defining Artemisia  This is the first biography on the painter, and the

The difficulty of defining Artemisia

This is

the first biography on the painter, and the novel was

published in 1947. Later, there have been other biographies: e.g. that by Alexandra La Pierre ( 1998) and Susan Vreeland La passione di Artemisia( 2002) .

Anna Banti’s Artemisia is a difficult novel to define, is a an autobiography, a biography, or a historical novel? A complex novel, due to the highly innovative techniques it displayed in the context of the Italian narrative of the period, it is important to recall that the novel was written in 1944 and published in 1947. A novel affected by Banti’s interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s works, in this case, particularly, Orlando.

Autobiographical elements in Artemisia   The relationship between Artemisia and her father, their pupil/teacher relation
Autobiographical elements in Artemisia   The relationship between Artemisia and her father, their pupil/teacher relation

Autobiographical elements in Artemisia

The relationship between Artemisia and her father, their pupil/teacher relation cannot avoid recalling the intense relationship Banti had with Longhi, to whom the book was dedicated. A relationship that, starting as a teacher pupil one, eventually ended in their marriage

There are autobiographical elements also in the relationship Banti imagines existing between Artemisia and her husband Antonio Stiattesi who runs a “ milliner’s and old junk shop”. The deep love Artemisia feels for this husband is invented (see p. 81). This has come to light because of the recent discovery of 36 manuscript letters between Artemisia and her husband, which have enlightened us on the intense love story Artemisia had with Francesco Maria Maringhi, a rich Florentine gentleman. These are passionate, surprisingly modern letters, which can be read in their entirety Lettere di Artemisia, collected and interpreted by F. Solinas (De Luca, 2011).

Autobiographical elements  Another biographical element is the deep passion Banti describes Artemisia as having for

Autobiographical elements

Another biographical element is the deep passion Banti describes Artemisia as having for art and her calling.

The Novel’s Framework  The novel’s framework: Banti imagines that, during the Nazi occupation of Florence,

The Novel’s Framework

The novel’s framework: Banti imagines that, during the

Nazi occupation of Florence, after bombing of the city the manuscript of the novel she had started writing in 1944 is buried in the ruins of her house. And that is the reason she is crying at the beginning of the novel. The reader can understand the novel’s opening words: “Don’t cry!” only after the first two pages. “Human cicadas are chirruping at Pitti’s, it’s midday, light has been shining for eight hours, six hours ago the South Africans arrived, and the women kissed them, as could be seen from the broken windows of the Palatine gallery, our refuge”.

The Novel’s Framework  At four o’clock, on the 4 th of August 1944 the Germans,

The Novel’s Framework

At four o’clock, on the 4 th of August 1944 the Germans, while evacuating the town blew bombs along the banks of the Arno: many bridges fell, any houses were razed, the writer’s house among them, (her Florentine house in Borgo San Giacomo) and there her manuscript was buried. This is the reason she is crying. The first pages of the book are studded by the image of Artemisia haunting the writer, refusing to let her be. The loss of the manuscript triggers a dialogue between Banti and Artemisia, the bold XVII century artist.

complex relationship between Anna Banti The and Artemisia  Artemisia, Sunsan Sontag states in her introduction

complex relationship between Anna Banti

complex relationship between Anna Banti The and Artemisia  Artemisia, Sunsan Sontag states in her introduction

The

and Artemisia

Artemisia, Sunsan Sontag states in her introduction to the English translation of the text, by Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo in 2004, becomes Banti’s object of desire, an elusive object, never fully in the writer’s grasp. With Artemisia, Banti, as Woolf had done with Orlando, a sort of “alter ego” of hers, stages a dance, a chase, because the writer does not want to lose her image, her memory. She wants to resuscitate her, despite the loss of the manuscript

Artemisia as a multifaceted character  “ We play at chasing each other. Artemisia and I.

Artemisia as a multifaceted character

We play at chasing each other. Artemisia and I. And at stopping, not without traps, from the most material and obvious ones to the most concealed. I abandoned her with my first voyage after the war, from whence I tell myself I might not come back. She spills a whole ink bottle on my page. And then we stare at each other. ”( p.90).

In this first part of the novel Artemisia appears to the reader as a multifaceted character: she is sometimes yielding, sometimes inaccessible, other times querulous, or even taciturn. In the dialogue established between the two women it is the character’s resistance to being resuscitated that is highlighted .

The first part of the novel  As already stated, the first part of the novel

The first part of the novel

As already stated, the first part of the novel is characterised by an experimental narrative technique where there is a complex relationship and bond between the writer’s first person narrative and Artemisia’s voice, calling for her point of view to be heeded to. The storyline is no longer linear, but fragmented, made of continuous surges, of flash backs, because the writer follows the route of memory. The narrative proceeds by jolts due to “emotional jolts ” with the intervals scanned by the impulses of memory. “ And the obstinate work, not yet of memory, but of the images that from memory glean imperceptible nourishment does not change“ (p.29)

Banti’s voice crosses over the telling of Artemisia’s life    One of the most
Banti’s voice crosses over the telling of Artemisia’s life    One of the most

Banti’s voice crosses over the telling of Artemisia’s life

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of the Biography/ Autobiography is the fact that Banti’s voice crosses over the telling of Artemisia’s life.

Wavering, she follows the dismayed memory of what I wrote, what I wanted to guess or sacrifice to the fidelity of the story“( p.”1)

“ I will no longer be able to free myself from Artemisia, this creditor is an obstinate, boring conscience I am getting used to, like sleeping on the floorboards. It is no longer the dialogue of the first days that occupies me, but a sort of pact, legally drawn between a notary and someone drawing a will. Which I must honour” ( p.35)

Eventually Banti will agree to the fact that only the past can bring Artemisia to life “ Artemisia doesn’t answer me, her distance is immeasurable, stellar… a three hundred year’s longer experience has not taught me to redeem a friend from her human mistakes and reconstruct for her an ideal freedom, which

would leave her breathless and exalted in her many hours of labour.”(p.104) .

Parallel between the violence of the war and that of Artemisia rape  In the novel’s
Parallel between the violence of the war and that of Artemisia rape  In the novel’s

Parallel between the violence of the war and that of Artemisia rape

In the novel’s first pages Banti sets a sort of parallel between the violence of war an that of rape, People who, at four o’clock in the morning push, like a frightened flock to look at the disrepair of their homeland, to compare by viewing the terrors of a night which German mines used, one after the other, to disrupt the very crust of the earth(p.9) “

The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi  Artemisia testified in the trial brought by Orazio Gentileschi, in

The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia testified in the trial brought by Orazio Gentileschi, in March, 1612, which lasted seven months, against Agostino Tassi, a painter, friend

of Artemisia’s father. The accusation was that of the rape against and extremely young Artemisia,

happening a year before.

Fourteen ! I defended

myself, it was useless. He had promised to marry

me, he promised it to the very last, the traitor, to deprive me of revenge he gave me a turquoise!

(.p.20)

The Trial of Artemisia  ) During the trial Artemisia was insulted and mocked (p.21) The

The Trial of Artemisia

) During the trial Artemisia was insulted and mocked (p.21) The trial, instead of awarding her justice, became an instrument of slander. She was eyed with suspicion for having kept quiet so long, and thus considered consenting by public opinion. She also had to undergo the so called Sybill’s torture, which was having thin ribbons tied to the fingers and tightened till bleeding occurred. The name derived from the idea that truth would issue forth as with the Cumae oracle.

The Transcription of Artemisia’s deposition  This is the transcription of her deposition on the rape
The Transcription of Artemisia’s deposition  This is the transcription of her deposition on the rape

The Transcription of Artemisia’s deposition

This is the transcription of her deposition on the rape as it emerges

from the documents « He locked the door of the room with a key, and after locking it he threw me on the bed, shoving his had to my chest, put his knee between my thighs, so that I could not close them, and lifting my clothes, which he had great difficulty in doing, put a hand with a handkerchief on my throat and mouth, so that I could not shout, and my hands, which he was holding with his other hand were released, having put both his knees between my legs and pointing his member on my “nature” started pushing and put it inside. And I scratched his face and tore his hair and before he put it inside I grasped his member in such a way I even took some of its flesh away»(Eva Menzio (ed.), Artemisia Gentileschi, Lettere precedute da Atti di un processo di stupro, Milano, 2004

Artemisia’s Rape in Banti’s novel  “ He held me down forcefully with his fists and

Artemisia’s Rape in Banti’s novel

He held me down forcefully with his fists and teeth, but I had seen Francesco’s trimming knife on the chest, I reached out and grasped it and slashed with it, upwards, cutting my palm in the process.” ( p.21)

Banti’s feminist reading of the painter Artemisia  Why has Banti’s text been seen as one
Banti’s feminist reading of the painter Artemisia  Why has Banti’s text been seen as one

Banti’s feminist reading of the painter Artemisia

Why has Banti’s text been seen as one of the first feminist reading of the painter Artemisia? On this there is a very important sentence, especially when recalling that it was written in 1944. “Our poor liberty is tied to the humble liberty of a virgin who, in 1612, only possesses that of her intact body, and cannot, in all eternity, accept having lost it. The length of her life she tried substituting this with another, higher and stronger, one, but her regret for the former remained… (p.22)

Artemisia’s difficult relationship’s with her father  Banti highlights the difficulties the painter had, as a
Artemisia’s difficult relationship’s with her father  Banti highlights the difficulties the painter had, as a

Artemisia’s difficult relationship’s with her father

Banti highlights the difficulties the painter had, as a women, in imposing her art. Her difficult relationship with her father “a greenish

small face, the face of a neglected child, eyes veering to grey, mousy blonde hair, a stubborn and worn out delicacy of features: Artemisia at ten” ( p.11) The daughter felt a huge love and admiration for her father, which was unrequited (pp38-39) Orazio was not kind to her . He once told her: “ I’m going to Pisa to my brother’s, he wants to see me, and I’m ashamed at bringing you with me after what happened ”.

The father, representing for her the great model, her admiration for

his paintings and his art was vast. “Everything rested on the ineffable certainty that Orazio was by her side, and she could fall asleep and wake up a hundred times, she would always be seeing him there. ” ( p.38)

Art and Solitude  Art and solitude . Banti highlights Artemisia’s difficult position, having suffered rape

Art and Solitude

Art and solitude. Banti highlights Artemisia’s difficult position, having suffered rape and being obliged by her father to marry, since

marriage was the only way to re-establish her in the eyes of society,

to erase the shame

of violence and impurity. Banti foregrounds

perfectly how the trial ended, not only Artemisia was denied justice, but furthermore, Agostino Tassi: “is acquitted and let free due to the intrigues of quartermaster Cosimo and the mercenary motives of Giambattista Stiattesi; Orazio Gentileschi goes back to his intellectual phlegm, slightly veined with distaste, Artemisia reduced, from an ephemeral, scandalous celebrity to a harassed, rebellious solitude: these are the facts I consider – and I don’t know if I should blush – a second Punic war. (p. 29)

Banti retraces the various phases of her artistic production  In the course of the novel
Banti retraces the various phases of her artistic production  In the course of the novel

Banti retraces the various phases of her artistic production

In the course of the novel Banti shows how Artemisia, as she dedicates herself with passion and self-denial to painting, becomes aware of her own art. Banti retraces the various periods of Artemisia’s artistic production: Florence, Rome, Naples, and eventually England, where Artemisia went to meet up with her aged father. This awareness gave her freedom. For example, the period in which she worker in Florence for Grand duke Cosimo II, and befriended scientists and intellectuals such as Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger. She paints Lucretia (Giovanna was the woman who helped her and perhaps modelled for Lucretia.

pp.40-41)

In Roma sought after by the Barberini and the refined collector Cassiano dal Pozzo.

The intense relationship with her brother  Banti describes the intense relationship between Artemisia and her
The intense relationship with her brother  Banti describes the intense relationship between Artemisia and her

The intense relationship with her brother

Banti describes the intense relationship between Artemisia and her brother Francesco, who was also a painter. Her brother would stop to look at Artemisia while she was working at night “Now, he is not afraid of bothering her if he follows the movements of her pencil, and, bending towards her, takes his time to look at her drawings” (p.31)

Artemisia’s passion for Art  Artemisia’s passion for Art enables her to overcome the trauma of

Artemisia’s passion for Art

Artemisia’s passion for Art enables her to overcome the trauma of rape. Banti stresses how the trauma provokes Artemisia’s anger, a desire to get even, she declares “they shall see who Artemisia is“ Artemisia is convinced that Art may help change the world because art makes us think. Art is a passion making us forget all other ties. Banti also underlines that Artemisia actually earned her living with her paintings.

There are, in the novel, important sections on the artist’s relationship with other painters of her time, such as Agostino Tasso, a knight and great painter who taught her perspective, but also the man who raped her( 15).

Artemisia rereads the great historical and biblical heroines  At this point I would like to
Artemisia rereads the great historical and biblical heroines  At this point I would like to

Artemisia rereads the great historical and biblical heroines

At this point I would like to point out that in her novel, Banti does not give a critical appraisal on Artemisia’s work, but rather stresses the fact that in her paintings the latter re-reads the great historical and biblical heroines:

Susannah, Judith, Bethsabeah, Cleopatra, Magdalene, Lucretia, Sisara ( we will dwell on this point when examining her paintings)

The description of the composition the picture of Judith’s killing Olophernes seems to be an actual performance, and here it appears to me that Banti highlights exceedingly well

the theatrical quality of Artemisia’s pictures. (pp.48-49)

Artemisia in Naples     There is a very suggestive part of the book

Artemisia in Naples

There is a very suggestive part of the book that describes the painter’s stay in Naples, where she opened a school of painting and was already a well established painter in her own right.

Her apprentice painters considered her a sort of “ monstrum” …”this gut less woman”

“ This is a woman who, in every gesture, would like to be inspired by a model of her own sex and time, a teacher, a noblewoman, and cannot find one”

The idea of a genealogy of womens’ artists  A figure that does not fall under
The idea of a genealogy of womens’ artists  A figure that does not fall under

The idea of a genealogy of womens’ artists

A figure that does not fall under the rules or models “What her condition, in fact, is, no confessor has been able to explain to her, however much she might have insisted: as, however much she has meditated, she has not yet managed to identify and recognise herself in an exemplary figure, approved by her century” (p.93) In Banti’s

novel there is the idea on the existence of a genealogy of women, a

tradition of women’s creativity. What is interesting is that

Banti

makes Artemisia aware that, in her own time, there are women

artists like her.

(see for instance the passage in which Banti has

Artemisia speak of the presence of Sofonisba Anguissola and the

singer Adriana Basile ).

The difficulty of establishing solidarity among theselves  Banti also highlights Artemisia’s difficult temper “ When
The difficulty of establishing solidarity among theselves  Banti also highlights Artemisia’s difficult temper “ When

The difficulty of establishing solidarity among theselves

Banti also highlights Artemisia’s difficult temper “When Artemisia is angry she has no fear of an army ”.( p.154)

Another important concept expressed by Banti is the difficulty women have in establishing solidarity amongst themselves : “ See these females: …the best ones, the strongest, those who better resemble valiant men: how reduced to disloyalty and falseness to each other, in the world you have created, for your own use and

comfort. We are so few and endangered that we no longer now how to recognise and understand each other, or at least to respect each other the way you show respect amongst yourselves. For a laugh you let us free in an arsenal full of poisonous weapons. And so we suffer …”

(p.101)

Travelling as a moment of Freedom  Travelling, moving, seen as a moment of freedom and
Travelling as a moment of Freedom  Travelling, moving, seen as a moment of freedom and

Travelling as a moment of Freedom

Travelling, moving, seen as a moment of freedom and enfranchisement. Leaving, then, for this long journey, the writer enriches with beautiful pages, such as those describing the arrival of the ship “Jonathan” before Leghorn, and then in Genoa (“crowded, fiery blocks of masonry, a thousand holes of windows, and cupolas, belfries, terraces, and the swarming docks, men and goods, carts and carriages” where the ship must be changed (a Genoese felucca) to sail for Marseilles.

Travelling as a Moment of Freedom  The description of her journey to England, where she

Travelling as a Moment of Freedom

The description of her journey to England, where she goes to meet

her father, is beautiful “ ..

  • I felt I was taking another step towards an

unbounded, savage freedom, the enfranchisement from memories”, p.156. In England Artemisia recovers “la forgetfulness of retrieved childhood.

Her description of the crossing of the Channel: “Unawares we entered a thick fog, and bells kept ringing therein: it seems as though Mass should appear.” It is no doubt one of the most beautiful journeys described in literature. Further on we shall find other, delightful pages, describing Artemisia received at Court by Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, who would proceed to commission a portrait “The hundred-tenth portrait of the Queen

The Pictorial quality of Banti’s writing    The pictorial quality interiors reminiscent Artemisia’s paintings.

The Pictorial quality of Banti’s writing

The

pictorial

quality

interiors

reminiscent

Artemisia’s paintings.

of

Banti’s

writing:

of

Caravaggio’s

and

The importance of the visual dimension within the whole of Banti’s narrative production.

The description of XVII century Rome, Papal and plebeian, is fascinating, as is the description of the Stiattesi household.

The Pictorial quality of Banti’s style  Pictorial sketches and scenes. There are also some beautiful

The Pictorial quality of Banti’s style

Pictorial sketches and scenes. There are also some beautiful portraits, that of sixty year old Pietra Spinola, a pipe smoker: “With precise, impatient motions, the lady filled the chamber, pressed the leaf, handled the linchpin, lighted. She aspired with forceful energy.”; those of a girl pulling water from a well (“Time would pass as she gazed on a girl in a scarlet petticoat pulling water from the well, with particular movements of her arms and hands not practiced in Italy.”), of the inn servant Delfina “wide cheekbones and charmed by singing, with a genial grin of such sweet mischievousness.”, of the mother superior of a convent in Paris, “A counterfeit midget, her eyes like two bruised tumors, holding in her right stumpy hand a leaden ebony and gold crosier. Her lawn dress was horribly form fitting.”, Of Cardinal Richelieu’s carriage speeding on the Pont Neuf, escorted “by a battery of

red, wild riders, so that the paving, nay, even the mud burst with sparks”.

Banti’s visual memory and the use techinical filming descriptions  Banti has an outstanding visual memory
Banti’s visual memory and the use techinical filming descriptions  Banti has an outstanding visual memory

Banti’s visual memory and the use techinical filming descriptions

Banti has an outstanding visual memory of paintings, from high painting to minor art, especially that feeding most on reality. As was XVII century painting, “hers is a figurative involuntary painting” to use a famous Proustian adjective.

It must be pointed out that Banti often uses technical filming descriptions: her eyes works like a cameramen’s, quickly zooming to characters’ close ups, and then lapsing into slow rhythms and long tracking shots, to give space to landscapes and other characters ( see Banti’s enduring passion for cinema, in particular historical films).

The description of the Stiattesi household  It is the Stiattesi household, the description of the

The description of the Stiattesi household

It is the Stiattesi household, the description of the tumultuous and plebeian life flowing through it – a sort of court of miracles where suddenly the sound of an instrument plucked by an anonymous Spaniard can be heard – gives the measure of the style and peremptory, almost stenographical and at the same time picaresque inspiration of the author. The latter seems to grow, in her writing, closer and closer to the style of the paint strokes of her heroine: “painting more and more resentfully and fiercely, with murky shadows, stormy lights, brush strokes like sword slashes

Banti’s intertextuality the European pictorial tradition  Another interesting aspect is the interweaving with pictorial tradition:
Banti’s intertextuality the European pictorial tradition  Another interesting aspect is the interweaving with pictorial tradition:

Banti’s intertextuality the European pictorial tradition

Another interesting aspect is the interweaving with pictorial tradition: see for instance the self description while crying, sitting down on the gravel in the Boboli gardens, an image recalling Durer’s Melancholy. Or a number of still lives (p.73), and the intertextuality with the Flemish school ( p.100)

Finally, a consideration on the language used by Banti: a refined Italian, nevertheless sprinkled with Florentine,

Neapolitan and Roman dialectical inflections.

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