Artemisia Gentileschi and the Rhetoric of Shadows: A Woman's Voice in the Baroque World

Paige Dempsey Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Carol Reeves Butler University
The Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the most famous female painters of Western history. She is known for her use of dramatic visual narrative and Caravaggisti techniques, for being the victim of sexual assault at the age of seventeen, and for supporting herself with an artistic career during a time when women rarely had the ability to do so. Her paintings are particularly famous for being notably different than her male peers’ work. Gentileschi’s female subjects are given strong narrative focus and realistic physicality and emotion. Her heroines are less idealized, less demonized, and more humanized than they are in depictions by other Baroque – predominantly male – painters. Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes especially differs drastically from most other paintings inspired by the same story, including one by the Baroque artistic leader of the time, Caravaggio. Why did she paint her women differently than most other Baroque painters? I theorize that she is operating as a visual rhetor, crafting a message on the complexity of women, and presenting it to the patriarchal world. Using Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation, I examine how Gentileschi understood her own effectiveness as a rhetor, how she navigated constraints placed upon her rhetoric, and how she crafted her paintings so they could best reach her rhetorical audience. She depicted a reality in which women were multifaceted, fully realized individuals and presented it to a society which believed the opposite. In this way, her art was a message of ideological and even political dissent
Art/Art History
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:15 AM
Lilly Hall 133