"Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting" by Artemesia Gentileshci

“Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting” by Artemesia Gentileschi, painted between 1638-1639.

This post was written for kids.

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian painter of the Baroque period, (which was right after the Renaissance) who painted stories from the Bible as well as portraits.

To be an artist back in the 1500s and 1600s, as a woman, was really challenging.  Schools, or academies, that taught art did not allow women.  Women were not allowed to see naked bodies in order to learn how to draw and paint people realistically.  

In response to those challenges, some women chose to paint only flowers, or only animals.  These were good, practical choices and they were successful and sold many paintings.

But history paintings and biblical paintings were the top and Artemisia aimed high, she wanted to paint what was considered the best.

She was lucky, because her father was an artist and he trained her.  She was good, really good.  It’s possible that some of the paintings that her father signed as his own work were really by her.  

Artemisia was good at drawing and painting people in a realistic way.  Like many other women artists throughout history, she painted portraits of herself to both show her talent and as a way to show, “yes, it’s really a woman who painted this.”  The image on the cover is her painting of herself as the allegory of painting.

An allegory is an idea, or spirit of a thing, personified, shown as if it were a person, usually that person is a woman.  (The Statue of Liberty is an allegory for Liberty.)

We need to know about Artemisia Gentileschi not only because she was an early woman artist, and it’s important that everyone knows that women artists have always been there, despite all the obstacles they faced, but also because she was AMAZINGLY talented.  

Another reason Artemisia is  important is that she painted stories from the bible as no man artist ever had.  Often, male artists painted women as pretty little things, too weak to actually carry out the heroic task they do in their bible story.  She painted the women heroines of the bible as strong and brave.