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Borsheim Art Newsletter:

by Kelly Borsheim copyright 12 May 2015

    CONTENTS:
  1. ArtemisiA Art Auction: Benefitting Women's Shelter Italy
  2. Artemisia Gentileschi, her father Orazio, and Caravaggio paintings
  3. Calendar
  4. New Figure Painting: Reflections of a Studio Model
  5. Blog Highlights: Florence in the Springtime
  6. Subscription Info.

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[ceramic sculpture in the Rose Garden Florence]

Terra-cotta sculpture in the Rose Garden
Florence, Italy, photo by Kelly Borsheim 30 April 2015

Dear Art Lover,

I have never considered myself a feminist. Maybe that word took on an extreme meaning when I was little and it turned me off when it became synonymous with "man-hater." I do not like the idea that someone cannot feel good without putting another down. Don't care who it is. But lately I have been rethinking the label. It seems the world needs more feminists, of both sexes.

Many years ago, I told my Florentine friend Simone that it grosses me out to see the bronze statues of Judith beheading Holofernes and Perseus holding up high the head of Medusa as her neck lies under his foot, spurting volumes of blood and gore right in Piazza Signoria. He explained that it was not the violence that the Florentines appreciate. It is the idea of the "little guy triumphs over the big guy [brute]."

Yeah, OK, I get that, too. Obviously, the David and Goliath story is popular for that same reason. I also "suffer" a lot from Underdog Syndrome: you know, rooting for the little guy.

Sadly, there never seems to be an end to the "big guys." In my current quest for a home, I spent a few hours with the woman, Teresa, who is the president of an organization called ArtemisiA, here in Florence, Italy. They operate the battered women's shelter in the city and work to fight domestic violence. On the drive out into the countryside I asked her about a story and some stats I heard recently, ironically at a wedding at the Palazzo Vecchio. Yes, it is true, she said. Every 2-3 days in Italy, a woman is murdered and usually by her ex. Not so long ago, a woman was killed by her ex, her body cut up and bagged before being thrown into the Arno River here in Firenze. As recently as 1981, he could get away with it if he claimed it was "a crime of passion." [If a woman was in his place, she did not get away with it for any reason.]

So much for Casanova! Sadly, this is not just Italy's deep and dirty secret. Too many women and children (and occasionally men) are violently abused within the "sanctity" of their own homes by their own family members, all over the world. What hope do any of us have when the very people we love, trust, and live with are the ones who are hurting us, sometimes up until the point of death?

Many other artists and I are donating original artworks for the first-time-ever art auction event in Firenze for ArtemisiA. All artworks will have a starting bid of 100 euro. If you are in Florence, please attend… it is FREE and includes apericena [buffet]. You do not have to buy art [but please do!]; however, a good crowd helps others wonder what is going on and this issue needs more attention. All proceeds go to Artemisi to help women in sheltered homes as they and their children escape the violence.

Sunday 17 May 2015
Bidding starts at 17:30 (5:30 p.m.)
Casa Torricelli

Via Manzoni 2 [near Piazza Beccaria], Florence [Firenze, Italia]

There are a LOT of artworks to auction off!
ArtemisiA in collaboration with Le Giubbe Rosse [the artist's café in Piazza della Repubblica]

[Invitation Fund raising Art Auction Florence Italy]
You are invited!
Enjoy the party, meet artists, si mangia bene!
Aperitivo (buffet) free to attend
All artworks start bids at 100 euro
Firenze, Italy
drawings donated by Kelly Borsheim
plus many other artist donations

[Artemisia Gentileschi Magdalen]
The Penitent Magdalen
oil on canvas
1617-20 by Artemisia Gentileschi
Palazzo Pitti Firenze

[Artemisia Gentileschi Magdalen]
The Repentent Magdalen
122 x 96 cm; oil on canvas
1621-22 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Were these commissions
of a popular theme
or was the artist
trying to communicate
something more personal?

If the latter,
about what would she have
regretted?

[Artemisia Gentileschi Magdalen]
Annunciation
257 x 179 cm; oil on canvas
1630 by Artemisia Gentileschi

############################################
Artemisia Gentileschi, a strong female artist

During our visit, Teresa (President of ArtemisiA organization against domestic violence) told me that the female artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1652), who is now getting some deserved recognition in the art world, was raped. According to Teresa, Artemisia was the first woman in Italy's history to ever denounce (accuse and take to trial) her attacker. And then she created her own composition in paint of the then popular subject of Judith beheading Holofernes. Teresa said that Artemisia painted in the face of her attacker on the head of the man being decapitated. Sadly, for all of her strength, not much has changed in the last several hundred years. Still, it starts somewhere and we have made SOME progress.

The story goes that Artemisia was born in July 1593 in Rome to the well-known painter Orazio Gentilesche. She was the eldest of all of the children, but the only girl. Her mother died in childbirth when Artemisia was 12 years old. And apparently she was the only child of the painter who showed any interest or skill in following in her father's career choice. However, Artemisia was rejected by the art academies. Stories imply that this is because she was female, but I am unclear on this since other stories mention that women artists were relegated to portraits and "charming subjects." Were they all rejected by the schools? Possibly.

In any event, Orazio asked his friend and colleague, the landscape painter Agostino Tassi to teach his daughter perspective drawing. In May 1611, Tassi raped his 17-year-old pupil. The trial occurred in 1612 with her father's help. Tassi was convicted and served a short time in prison, and some reports say that he was exiled from Rome. However, records show that he was free in 1613 and even returned to Rome (or maybe never even left). Such were his connections and perhaps he was also a product of his times.

I am not here to discuss the actual facts of this case since I do not know them and what I find on the Web is contradictory and also not first-hand information. Also, I know very little about the life and culture of those times. However, I am concerned about what is happening in our world today. This story brings out some disturbing information that seems frighteningly contemporary, such as these points:

  • Naturally, there must be proof that a crime was actually committed. In the case of rape, gathering that evidence is personal, embarrassing, and I suspect might even be painful for the victim. There is no kind way around this in the case of a sexual assault. However, it is stated that Artemisia had to undergo a public examination, or at the very least, the [presumably male] judge was present while midwives gathered evidence from Artemisia's body. This strikes me as twice violated.

  • Apparently it was not just important to find evidence of a violent (and thus, presumably a not mutually agreed upon) sexual intercourse. They also tried to determine whether or not the victim had EVER had sex before. This seems to imply that if she had already been "deflowered" [a rude and sexist term if ever there was one, but perhaps telling more about men's attitudes towards women or their own sexual preferences than anything else], there could be no case. Does this also go so far as to imply that once a woman has had sex, anything any man would do to her would be acceptable? Or are they trying to only determine her credibility? (Still, this puts the accuser on trial, not the accused.)

  • Some of the stories state that Artemisia was tortured to see if she would stay to her story! She did, in fact. Not unlike the famous witch trials, the woman is damned if she does, damned if she doesn't. But, if they are going to use legal violence, why did they not torture the accused to see which version of his defense stories would come out? [Apparently, his retelling changed during the course of the trial. It also came out that he had raped his wife, and her sister, and tried to have his wife murdered. Apparently women were seen so much as property that even his having a history of violence did not make a punishment stick!]

  • Several sites stated that Tassi promised to marry Artemisia to "save her honor" after the rape [lo stupor in Italian]. Some say that she kept having sex with him in the hopes that he would follow-through with this promise. Again, I do not know what is true, but the idea of that one's attacker should then be legally joined with his victim [and therefore easy access to violate her again and again] is disgusting! And the idea that a woman or even a girl loses her honor, her value, her reputation, her worth as a human being just because she had sex (on her own accord or as a victim) is also disturbing and unjust. [A side note, after the trial, she left Roma and appears to have had no contact again with Tassi, despite his living another 32 years. Actions speak louder than words, leading me to believe that she probably was not in love with him, as some accounts theorize.]

  • She was married shortly after the trial, perhaps to the relative of one of her testifying witnesses, a friend of her father's. The marriage did not last. I am presuming this is related to the idea that a non-virgin must be paired legally with a man… any man… so that the family has no dishonor. I think it is more dishonorable to be pawned off as property! This business of marriage is unacceptable and it makes me admire even more all of the woman who did something worthwhile with their lives instead of acting like cattle or playthings despite their legal unions. On the other hand, if both parties willingly enter into this knowing the score, I have no complaints. But how much is brainwashed into a young girl about her own value as a life? And how can young men be taught to be so selfish? Ok, my naďve questions end here.

  • Exile as a punishment for a violent crime? Does that actually deter a person or does it just mean that he is free to violate someone else, as long as you are unaware or unaffected by it?

No one knows how Artemisia died in Naples. However, she was ridiculed upon her death by references to her sexuality on two epitaphs. Even if she acted as a stereotypical man of her time, she deserved better than that! One site suggests that her death may have been by suicide after the constant struggle she had in making a career in a man's world. The reasoning is that suicides are apparently kept off of death records or hushed up. I wonder if we will ever know. She had the Medici in Florence and even at least one king and queen as patrons. She was friends with Galileo and many others. None of this is proof that inside she was not suffering, but she did seem to forge ahead to do a lot. I am curious to know, though, if she felt she was far from her mark.

[Artemisia Gentileschi Magdalen]
The Birth of Saint John the Baptist
164 x 258 cm, oil on canvas
1633-35 by Artemisia Gentileschi
at the Prado, Madrid

[Orazio Gentileschi David Goliath]

David Contemplating the Head of Goliath
32 x 29 cm; oil on copper
c. 1610 by Orazio Gentileschi
Staatlich Museum, Berlin

################################
Paintings of Orazio Gentileschi

Artemisia's father Orazio Lomi Gentileschi (1563-1639) was a well-known figure painter. Around the turn of that century, his style became influenced by his meeting the younger artist Caravaggio, with his dramatic chiaroscuro (light and dark in high drama). Orazio is considered one of the few followers of Caravaggio who was also his friend. In fact, apparently the two with a couple of others were sued for libel from some unflattering poetry circulated around artistic circles around 1603. I read that his work "lightened up" as the older painter moved away from Caravaggio's influence. I include here a few of Orazio Gentileschi's paintings.

[Orazio Gentileschi Annunciation]

Annunciation
286 x 196 cm; oil on canvas
c. 1623 by Orazio Gentileschi
Galleria Sabauda, Turin, Italy

[Orazio Gentileschi Lot and his Daughters]

Lot and his Daughters
oil on canvas
c. 1621 by Orazio Gentileschi
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

[Orazio Gentileschi Joseph and Potiphar's Wife]

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
205 x 262 cm; oil on canvas
1626 by Orazio Gentileschi
Royal Collection Windsor

[Gentileschi Artemisia Judith Maidservant]

Judith and Her Maidservant
[appear to be startled while carrying
the severed head of Holofernes]
114 x 93 cm; oil on canvas
1614-20 by Artemisia Gentileschi
Galleria Palatina [Palazzo Pitti] Firenze

############################################################
The Gentileschi Painters: Orazio and his daughter Artemisia

Naturally a student's early works will look something like her teacher's, or at least, if the student has any hand-eye coordination, I suppose. Back then there was the atelier system, so all natural tendencies aside, a professional painter probably wanted his pupil's work to look consistent enough with his own that the finished artwork had some cohesion.

From the very small collection I present to you today, my opinion tends to be that Orazio stayed in the beautiful, but decorative mode, while Artemisia wanted to portray real emotion. I like her sense of composition a little bit better, with more diagonals/triangels and flow lines.

I find it difficult to comment much about these paintings, certainly the gold dresses and such that I read somewhere are the hallmarks of the Gentileschi studios. I am quite certain that NONE of the images on this page show accurately the beauty in these paintings. But we can look at general composition geometries and basic color choices. [See the four paintings below this section of text.]

I cannot claim to know much about art history and am no expert on individual artists. However, in gathering this collection of images, I must say that Susanna Surprised by the Elders does not look like the other works by Orazio that I have found. The faces in the figures, especially the female figure's, do not have that "pinched look" that the other painting have... more obviously in the eyes, I mean.

And the face of Artemisia's Susanna looks a whole lot more like her father's lute player above it than it does her own lute player's open-eyed face. Although I do not really see much resemblance in the face designs of Orazio's Susanna and Artemisia's lute player either. The Susanna just looks too designed on ovals in comparison with the other works. I feel it is a different artist entirely.

The real point I wish to make on the Susanna subject is that the painting attributed to the father seems very decorative to me. The point is not really that these men are bothering her. The point seems to be to put her lovely torso on display. Other than her hand stopping one man's arm from wrapping further around her, nothing really in her body language shows surprise or outrage or anything negative. Her upturned face could be one in reverence or meditation, or even simply looking up to see what movement caught her eye. The men do not appear particularly threatening either... in fact, I would almost think they seem protective or kind, even as if unaware that she is nude. The man with his single finger near his mouth seems to be thinking, not trying to silence her. Neither is actually looking at her body. How unpredatory! The artist has missed the story, or perhaps re-titled an existing work that was "close enough."

Conversely, the men in Artemisia's Susanna painting look conniving and petty. The composition of six hands [reinforced by the line of the left man's back and arms] creates a wide diagonal line straight to the expression on Susanna's face. The large white vertical expanse of her flesh near the center of the image shows you right away her nude vulnerability. You feel her discomfort!

Incidentally, before I ever heard anything about Artemisia, I found her painting online when I did a search for a woman crouching in fear or torment. I needed to create an "art therapy" piece about a woman who was stalking me and I could not find a way to make it stop without causing a scene (maybe I should have done that latter). You may see the little composition titled Study for 'La Belladonna' on the page for my solo exhibition Luce dall'oscuritŕ. [Yes, La Belladonna is a pun, if you know your plants and a little bit of Italian. My Italian landlady was horrified that I wanted to title that arrangement The Trojan Horse because my harasser was pretty on the outside and petty/dangerous on the inside. But in Italian, Troia is slang for 'whore' and that did not fit this person so I found the other still-appropriate title.]

The pose and the facial expression on Artemisia's painting are perfect for someone feeling that too much is TOO MUCH! Considering that this painting is dated 1610 [about a year before her rape in May 1611], it is easy to believe that the young artist was probably already being hassled by men.

[Artemisia Lute Player St. Cecilia]

Saint Cecilia Playing a Lute
108 x 79 cm; oil painting
1610-12 by Artemisia Gentilischi

[Lute Player Orazio Gentileschi]

Lute Player
144 x 130 cm; oil on canvas
c. 1626 by Orazio Gentileschi
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

[Orazio Gentileschi Susanna Surprised by the Elders]

Susanna Suprised by the Elders
72 × 95.5 cm (28.3 × 37.6 in) oil painting
by Orazio Gentilischi
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro

[Susanna and the Elders Artemisia Gentileschi]

Susanna and the Elders
oil painting
1610 by Artemisia Gentileschi

##################################################
Caravaggio's Influenze on the Gentileschi Painters

I have written today about the idea of popular subjects among art patrons and I include several of Caravaggio's pieces here relevant to this post. It seems violence in art is not a new thing nor short-term. Perhaps this was the "reality TV" of their days. Anyway, you may see the drama in Caravaggio - the high contrast. And, of course, this was not his only subject matter. But you will see that this was what clients wanted enough for the painters to create them, over and over again.

[Caravaggio Beheading of John the Baptist]

Caravaggio The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
361 x 520 cm (note: NOT a small oil painting!)

[Caravaggio David with Head of Goliath]

David with the Head of Goliath
91 x 116 cm; oil on wood
1606 by Caravaggio
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

[Caravaggio Head of Goliath]

David with the Head of Goliath
125 x 101 cm; oil on canvas
1609 by Caravaggio
Galleria Borghese, Roma

[Caravaggio Salome with head of John the Baptist]

Salome with the Head of the Baptist
116 x 140 cm; oil on canvas
1609 by Caravaggio
Palacio Real, Madrid

[Caravaggio Sacrifice of Isaac]

The Sacrifice of Isaac
104 x 135 cm; oil on canvas
1601 by Caravaggio
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence [Firenze]

[Caravaggio Judith beheading Holofernes 1598]

Judith Beheading Holofernes
145 x 195 cm; oil on canvas
c. 1598 by Caravaggio
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Roma

[Caravaggio Sacrifice of Isaac]

Judith Beheading Holofernes (detail)
145 x 195 cm; oil on canvas
c. 1598 by Caravaggio
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Roma

##############################################
Caravaggio's Judith vs. Artemisi's Judiths

As I said when I started this conversation, I am pretty creeped out by the violence. I never want to understand how someone can cut off body parts. However, sadly, for as good an artist as she was, Artemisia's career will never likely be spoken of without discussing her rape. Maybe she wanted it that way or maybe she dealt with her life's blows the best she could while still making her life an artistic one. Because some of her art depicts violence between man and woman, her private life is wrapped up in her artistic one. But the story of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes, thus saving her people from slavery and worse, was wildly popular in Artemisia's lifetime.

Caravaggio's famous painting of the subject is certainly gory enough. The old maidservant's face is cold and shocked enough as well. However, when I look at her arms and gesture, I do not really believe she is in the process of cutting anything. Her pose seems too graceful, as if Caravaggio worked from a model who stood in that position for a while, but not as if he had captured a moment of intense force that must be required to cut through a spine. That does not bother me... in fact, I never looked at the painting long enough to notice that until this writing. However, her facial expression is brilliant. She looks horrified by her own deed or perhaps a bit confused and worried that she is not strong enough to finish the deed. She seems almost sorry to do what she felt she had to do. The little black ribbon on her earring is compositionally and significantly brillant, softening our heroine even more. We want to cheer for her. She is not committing an atrocity; she is surviving and saving others, and perhaps saving her sweet feminity while doing it.

Artemisia's Judith is intense. In both versions of her composition, obviously using the same cartoon [design on a paper used to transfer a pre-planned composition to the painting surface, in this case canvas], this Judith is angry. She is focused and she WILL complete this task. I read on some site that during the cleaning process, the furrows in the brows of both women were lost. If true, that would make a difference in their expressions. I am curious if there is a way to verify Teresa's story that Artemisia painted the face of her rapist Tassi onto that of Holofernes. Bravo if she did do that!

Not that it matters, but of the two, I prefer her first composition (blue dress) better. They are both well executed, and no, do not pardon that pun! But I find the changes she made for the second go-around to be not to my liking. I do not like the shape of Holofernes' upper right arm, but that must be a difficult thing to figure out, with the hand reaching up to try to push away the maidservant. I like it that Judith's dress between her arms goes to shadow. I find the yellow dress lighting too distracting. The blue dress is darker, thus isolating the face so we notice more the intense expression (subdued hatred?)

I read on another site that Artemisia had done her research or perhaps it was her friendship with Galileo that taught her about how liquid would squirt out of a severed head. I think that is a reach. However, she did change the blood dispersement on her redo. I like it that she broke up the light shape of the victim's forearm, but the line of the blood is too parallel or to centered within that shape for my taste. On the other hand, I am looking at a very small image that captures only a little of the masterpiece. I do enjoy on the original composition how the short sword is going transparent. That is what oil does depending on the application, but it gives another interpretation for me, as if a spirit is helping Judith with this horrible task.

I also prefer the first one because the maidservants body and her head are going into shadow sooner, especially her white turban or headdress. This helps my eye stay on the action. I also do not like the change she made to the top shoulder on Judith's yellow dress on the version on the right. And I do not like that forearm "bracelet" or tatto on Judith's left arm. I think the design is stronger when you squint and see the two white diagonals of her arms reaching towards the action. There are times in which an artist wants to add variety to such symmetry. For me, this is not a case that needs it. Or maybe the jewellery is not the right answer.

In any case, if Artemisia is using her art as a form of therapy and even revenge (to forever shame her [and others'] rapist), she did it all in the context of being a professional artist, using the themes available to her. She learned to read and write after she left Rome and it is said that her letters to clients and friends prove that she understood her value as a person and as an artist. Despite having to move to where her clients were and despite the loss of perhaps three children (died at a young age in Florence), she managed a decent living for her and her daughter after she left her husband. It is sad that we do not know more of her life, or her death.

[Artemisia Gentileschi Judith beheading Holofernes 1598]

Judith Beheading Holofernes
159 x 126 cm; oil on canvas
1611 by Artesimia Gentileschi
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli

[Artemisia Gentileschi Judit beheading Holofernes]

Judith Beheading Holofernes
199 x 162 cm; oil on canvas
1612-21 by Artemisia Gentileschi
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florenze

[Light from Darkness art exhibit]

"Nightwatch"
charcoal with pastel / carboncino con pastelli
64 x 46 cm

#############################
Calendar:

  • Through 15 May, Cincinnati, Ohio: exhibit of two of my drawings in Manifest Gallery's DRAWN 2015. Be quick! Not much time left.
  • In June I will be in Florida and South Carolina. If you want to get together, please contact me.
  • In early July, I will be in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Paul, and before that in North Carolina with family.
  • In late July, August, and early September, I will be working to carve stone and create bronze sculpture in Austin, Texas.
  • October 22-25 finds me at The Artists Fair, at the Bargehouse in London [Yes, England]: www.theartistsfair.com

    I would love to see you if possible.

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  • [Studio Model daydreaming of weeping willow trees]

    Reflections of a Studio Model
    oil on canvas
    60 x 50 cm
    © Kelly Borsheim

    #############################
    New Figure Painting: Reflections of a Studio Model:

    I am guessing that it takes a pretty big idiot to show off one of her little oil paintings after showing you so many masterpieces. Despite my lack of marketing skills, perhaps a peaceful image will feel a relief after the gory subjects above.

    Many people wonder what models think about when they are posing for artists. I decided to play with that idea while making something new of a figure painting I did in a studio with other artists some time ago. I love trees and weeping willows are especially appealing. My grandparents had a great one in their yard on a lake in Minnesota. I have been waiting to use them in some sort of composition, so here we go.

    Like most of my work, some part of the image is related to me or my current life situation. I have been living in the city of Florence, Italy, for about three-four years now [straight] and I need more trees. So, if I were the model and had to sit so still for hours, I would dream of trees! The little turtle in the foreground right was added because I felt something needed to break up the space and I wanted to hint at the idea that possibily her dream might be linked to reality. His presence outside of her dreaming gaze may imply that. Speriamo.

    Thanks to Magda, who is a wonderful model!

    Contact Borsheim Arts Studio if you would like to acquire this painting. Thank you!

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    ----------------------
    Recent Blog Topics: More of Artemisia & Florence

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    Thank you for sharing this journey with me. Thank you for sharing this newsletter with your friends and colleagues. And certainly, thank you for supporting my work by adding some of it to your collection.

    Peace,
    Kelly Borsheim
    12 May 2015

    P. S. Happy birthday to Vicky and to Ram!


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    [Self Portrait Artemisia Gentileschi Private Collection]

    Self Portrait Artemisia Gentileschi
    Private Collection

    ----------------------
    Give a Book Review:

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    Above: Cover for book:
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