|Susan Vreeland: The Passion of Artemisia|
Penguin Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-670-89449-4
Artemisia is "a work of the imaginationůmy Artemisia," Vreeland explains. But readers should not discount the extensive research, Vreeland's review of transcripts of Artemisia's rape trial held before a Roman Papal Court, and her trips to Italy to walk where the artist walked.
The novel, a fictionalized biography, opens with an 18-year-old Artemisia facing the Roman Court after her artist father accuses his friend and painting colleague, Agostino Tassi, of raping his daughter. The court believed women invited rape, thus the guilt rested on the women's shoulders. With this public accusation, Artemisia must testify, knowing she will be labeled unmarriageable. She also endures torture using a sibille. An officer of the court weaves a cord around the base of her fingers and tightens it rupturing the skin, often damaging the tendons, even breaking bones. This practice elicits confessions and in this case could cripple Artemisia's hand so she can no longer paint.
But she endures. Her father settles with the court, then forces Artemisia into an arranged marriage with an unfaithful husband. Yet, she views this as a new beginning, a chance to leave Rome and travel to Florence. There she gives birth to her daughter and attempts to further her career by seeking acceptance into the Academia. But the male bastion, Academia dell' Arte del Disegno, scoffs and turns her away. She channels her anger, pain and frustration into her paintings, ultimately gaining a respected position in art history.
Artemisia's art focuses on heroines. She paints strong women, not victims, who tell dramatic stories on canvas. She grows in her skill as an artist, garners grudging respect from her peers, raises her daughter as a single parent, and eventually forgives her father and husband.
Vreeland uses today's attitudes toward equality, women and creativity to explain this often misunderstood woman's life in the culture, economy, religions and social settings of Italy, 1593-1653. "I was attracted to Artemisia because of her achievements in spite of gender obstacles, and because I wanted to correct the false information published in a French film about her," Vreeland said.
Written in a traditional chronological style, Vreeland recounts Artemisia's story with simplicity and sensitivity. The men who benefit from a culture of gender bias, receive little compassion. Once again, Vreeland shows readers the story behind the art while also demonstrating her versatility as a talented writer.
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