Vreeland's remarkable ability...makes this novel an accomplished work of art.
This engaging novel, based on the life of the Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, begins with a notorious trial. When Artemisia's father, painter Orazio Gentileschi, publicly accuses his colleague, Agostino Tassi, of raping his teenage daughter, the case is brought before the papal court of Rome. At one point in the seven-month trial, Artemisia's palms are pressed together and her fingers are bound with a cord that is attached to a screw, which could be turned "just enough for the cords to squeeze a little." With her accused rapist sitting across from her, Artemisia is forced to defend her honor while the court attendant turns the screw until her fingers begin to bleed. On another day, she is examined by midwives who determine, in front of the whole courtroom, that she has been deflowered. After the court adjourns, Agostino receives a brief prison sentence, Orazio returns to painting Cardinal Borghese's Casino of the Muses and Artemisia is married off to a painter named Pietro Stiatessi, who whisks his "tainted" bride away to his native Florence.
Despite the brutal opening scenes, this isn't a sensational victim story. Instead, it is a thoughtfully rendered account of Artemisia's unconventional and inspiring life after the trial. Shaped around the events that "could have" inspired the paintings ascribed to the real Artemisia Gentileschi, the narrative chronicles her quickly arranged marriage to Pietro, the birth of her daughter and her struggles to define herself as a painter at a time when only male artists were taken seriously.
Like one of Artemisia's chiaroscuros, this novel's themes are presented theatrically; its famous characters are drawn with boldcontrasts of darkness and light. In Florence, Artemisia is admired by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, who gives her a paintbrush once owned by his great-uncle, "Il Divino." When Artemisia strikes up a fond acquaintanceship with Galileo one night at the Pitti Palace, the astronomer reveals to her the "wild and dangerous notion" that Jupiter has four moons instead of seven, and that the Earth revolves around the sun. It's easy to forgive Vreeland for these moments of heavy-handedness, because the book also explores Artemisia's subtle and complex relationships with more obscure characters.
Amused and intrigued by his wife's interest in painting, Pietro allows Artemisia to paint. After their daughter is born, they work side by side, with the child Palmira crawling between the legs of their easels. It isn't until Artemisia becomes the first woman accepted into the Academy of Florence—before Pietro is accepted—that professional jealousies drive them apart.
Alternately a distracted and doting mother, Artemisia is continually torn between her devotion to painting and her love for her daughter. Most of all, she feels guilty for denying her daughter contact with Orazio. For Artemisia, he is the father who told her stories of "sibyls, muses, and saints" and taught her how to paint. He's also the man who announced her shame to the Roman public and watched silently as the court attendant nearly severed the fingers from her hands. Vreeland suggests that Orazio's influence, as well as his betrayal, shaped Artemisia's character the most.
Thirteen years after the trial and her break with Orazio, Artemisia returns to Rome and visits the Borghese Casino. She discovers that Orazio had painted her image on the ceiling, and that he'd aged her into a "distracted" matron. She realizes that Orazio had predicted what the trial and the years ahead would do to her. Still unable to forgive him, she begins to understand why he didn't defend her at the trial—he simply needed to get back to his painting. Nothing else mattered.
In writing her second novel, Vreeland drew from the written testimony of the rape trial and Artemisia's documented correspondences with Galileo, Cosimo de'Medici II and Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, but she gleaned her heroine's voice and spirit from the actual paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi. Unlike biographer Alexandra Lapierre's meticulously researched and dense Artemisia, which was published in 2000, Vreeland's novel is a more distilled version of the woman's life; it targets readers who will enjoy the narration regardless of how familiar they are with Gentileschi's work.
Some people may question whether another speculative historical fiction about Artemisia is necessary. The answer is yes. In historical documentation, the facts of a woman's life are far more mutable than a man's. Though she was a respected artist at the end of her life, her work soon fell into obscurity, and her character was sexualized rather than admired. Vreeland's novel reminds us that Artemisia was a fiercely independent, prodigiously talented woman, the first to paint traditional religious and historical heroines from an original, female perspective. She painted Judith with the sleeves of her lavish gown pushed up her powerful forearms, a look of patient concentration on her face as she slayed Holofernes; her Cleopatra languished and died of public shame long before the asp bit her. Like Gentileschi's important works, The Passion of Artemisia provides an imaginative and respectful point of view to a compelling woman's story.
Vreeland follows up the success of Girl in Hyacinth Blue with another novel delving into the themes of art, history and the lives of women. Narrated in the wise, candid first-person voice of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), the novel tells the story of Gentileschi's life and career in Renaissance Italy. Publicly humiliated and scorned in Rome after her participation as defendant in a rape trial in which the accused is her painting teacher (and father's friend) Agostino Tassi, Artemisia accepts a hastily arranged marriage at the age of 18 to Pietro Stiatessi, an artist in Florence. Her marriage, while not a love match, proves at first to be affectionate, and the arrival of a daughter, Palmira, strengthens the bond with her husband. But rifts soon develop as Artemisia begins to have some success: she wins the patronage of the Medicis and is the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell'Arte before her husband. Studio and home become the battlefields of Artemisia's life, and Vreeland chronicles 20 years of the painter's struggles while raising her daughter alone. Details and visuals abound in the book; readers who loved the painterly descriptions of Girl will be spellbound in particular by the scenes in which Artemisia is shown at work. While some threads in the story are frustratingly dropped and the narrative concludes before the end of Artemisia's life, the underlying themes of familial and artistic reconciliation are satisfyingly developed. Forthright and imaginative, Vreeland's deft recreation ably showcases art and life. Agent, Barbara Braun. (Jan. 14) Forecast: Fans of Girl in Hyacinth Blue will be pleased with The Passion of Artemisia, which reprises many of the themes of its predecessor. Published to coincide with an exhibition of the works of Gentileschi and her father in New York City and St. Louis, the book will also be promoted by Vreeland's 12-city author tour, and has been named Book Sense's #1 pick for January/February. Expect happy sales. Rights sold in Denmark, England, Finland and Germany. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Artemisia Gentileschi, a young Italian painter under her father Orazio's apprenticeship, is raped repeatedly by her father's friend Agostino Tassi yet silenced by his promise to marry her. When her father takes Tassi to court, he claims that Tassi has damaged his daughter's reputation and rendered her paintings of lesser value. Artemisia, however, is questioned, tortured to make her truthful, physically examined in public, and made to feel like a criminal. When Tassi eventually is convicted, his sentence is minimal, but Artemisia is shamed forever in Rome. Her father marries her off quickly to Pietro, another artist, and the couple moves to Florence, where Artemisia is able to establish herself as a painter. The first woman to be accepted into the Academia dell'Arte, her persistence wins the patronage of the Medicis. Her husband's career is less successful, and he increasingly resents her achievements. Eventually Artemisia accepts the patronage of a Genoese merchant and leaves Pietro, supporting their daughter Palmira herself. She is reunited with her father, although the relationship is strained. Years later, after her own daughter is married and her father is dying, Artemisia is finally able to reconcile with Orazio. In this sympathetic portrait of the female Baroque painter, Artemisia comes alive through the first-person text, introducing the reader to post Wallace
Following her best-selling Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland tells of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 16th-century painter and the first woman admitted to the Accademia dell' Arte in Florence. The book begins with Artemisia's public humiliation in a papal court after she accuses her father's friend and her painting teacher, Agostino Tassi, of rape. Her father, Orazio, to make up for his lack of support during the trial, arranges for her to marry Pietro Stiatessi, a painter from Florence. Happy at first, the couple have a daughter, but as Artemisia's painting gains recognition and eclipses that of her husband's, the marriage falters. Forced to support herself and her daughter, Artemisia travels to Genoa, Rome, and Naples to find work and advance her career, maintaining her steadfast devotion to art while trying to be a good mother. Vreeland skillfully captures the detail of the paintings and of Artemisia's joy in creating beauty. Few writers can convey the visual arts as vividly. Gigi Bermingham reads with warmth and clarity, bringing the characters to life. Tape quality is excellent; enthusiastically recommended, especially for art lovers.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
After her brilliant Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999), Vreeland shows a deep knowledge of art once more but also veers toward message and melodrama.
"A privileged glimpse into an extraordinary woman's soul."—Margaret George
"Lovely."—The Atlantic Monthly
"Susan Vreeland set a high standard with Girl in Hyacinth Blue.... The Passion of Artemisia is even better.... Vreeland's unsentimental prose turns the factual Artemisia into a fictional heroine you won't soon forget." —People
"Vreeland has burrowed deeply into the mind of the artist and produced a vivid cast of female characters." —Vogue
"Vreeland's remarkable ability to portray with lyricism and intelligence the life of the artist both at its most practical and most sublime makes this novel an accomplished work of art." —San Francisco Chronicle