Artemisia Gentileschi’s Allegory of Painting (c.1630)

Here is a good example of how a borrowed form borrows meaning. In Artemisia Gentileschi’s self-portrait as an Allegory of Painting, it has been recognized by others that Artemisia is thinking of herself as a personification of Art. Yet scholars' continuing belief in "art as an imitation of nature" leaves experts without a good reason why she would.

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Artemisia Gentileschi, Allegory of Painting (c.1630) Oil on canvas. H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. 

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Even when Mary Garrard, the feminist art historian, found the answer she did not know it. Noting that Artemisia had turned the pose in Caravaggio’s Narcissus to the left, she ignored the implication in Artemisia's source.1 

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Caravaggio, Narcissus (detail rotated)

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Narcissus, of course, fell in love with his own reflection, a legend that Alberti later famously remarked led to the invention of painting. Thus, in basing her self-portrait on Caravaggio's painting, Artemisia's meaning is as clear as the water Narcissus looked into: painters paint themselves.

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Caravaggio, Narcissus

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Notes:

1. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 1989, p. 365

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.