Esther and Ahasuerus

On July 15, I posted a review of Andrew Nugent’s SOUL MURDER, in which the author shows that the killing of the spirit and the will are as ruthless as the murder of the body.

The picture on the left is a self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi  an artist during the Baroque period in Italy.

Artemisia was taught to paint by her father Orazio.  When she was 17, her father, a well-known artist himself, hired Agostino Tassi to tutor her.  Instead, her raped her.  Initially, the rape was not reported to the authorities because Tassi promised to restore her reputation by marrying her.  Her father agree to this  plan. (No one knows what Artemisia thought about it).  But when Tassi changed his mind about the marriage, Orazio reported him to the authorities.

The trial lasted seven months during which it was learned that Tassi had a plan to murder his wife,  marry his sister-in-law with whom he had been having an affair, and  steal some of Orazio’s paintings so he could sell them.  Artemisia had to undergo the usual humiliating exams and as well as torture.  Thumbscrews were used.  The prevailing theory was that if someone told the same story under torture that they told before being tortured, they must be telling the truth.  Tassi was found guilty and spent a year in jail.

Artemisia’s choice of subjects for her most famous paintings have led her to be considered a feminist by 20th century standards.  Judith Slaying Holofernes represents  the story of a Hebrew woman who saves her city from destruction by Holofernes, a general in the army of Nebuchadnezzar.  Judith seduces him, gets him drunk, and then cuts off his head.  In Esther And Ahasuerus, Esther is married to King Ahasuerus.  Her uncle hears of a plot to murder the king and tells Esther.  She saves the king but she worries about the control Haman, the king’s chief counselor has over him.  When she discovers that Haman has a plan to kill all the Jews in the kingdom, Esther tricks him into building a gallows for Mordecai, her uncle, who refuses to bow to any man.  Haman build the gallows and then Esther tells the king that Haman was behind the plot to kill him.  Haman gets the use of the gallows. In Jael And Sisera, Artemisia continues her theme.  Sisera was a general who was defeated in a battle against the Jews.  He fled and was offered hospitality by Jael, the wife of Heber.  They were Jewish and Jael gave him a refreshing drink that caused him to fall into a deep sleep.  Jael took a long nail and, with the use of a handy mallet, drove the nail into his temple and into the floor.

Atremisia Gentileschi’s subjects were women who took control of their lives by destroying the men who thought they were the ones in control.

It would probably not be a stretch to suggest that Artemisia had issues after her experience with Tassi.  But the experience did not murder Artemisia’s soul.  She directed her anger on to her canvas, achieved success and recognition as a painter at a time when women were not readily accepted.  She married, and raised a family.  She even remained on speaking terms with her father until his death.

Grace Brophy’s choice of the name Artemisia for one of the characters in THE LAST ENEMY suggests that she was familiar with the history of Artemisia Gentileschi.  Artemisia Casati’s book about the artist might have been a primer for women in any century.

The term “bohemian” as a description for artists and their life style came into use in the early 19th century.  What term would best describe Orazio Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi?

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  1. Great post, Beth.
    I learned from it – and loved it.

  2. Beth says:

    Artemisia was a woman who found a way to get her message across. If Tassi was still alive and saw her paintings, he would likely have made sure not to be alone with her.

    With the exception of the thumbscrews, the treatment of women when they are victims hasn’t changed much in 400 years.


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