With the doors to the National Gallery currently shut, the venue has made available an online tour of the exhibition.

Artemisia Gentileschi Susannah and the Elders, 1622
© The Burghley House Collection

Even when experiencing this online version of the exhibition, the viewer can be mesmerised with the detail and style of the work of Artemisia Gentileschi – who was certainly an artist who was ahead of her time particularly as a female artist.

Shown around this exhibition by curator Letizia Treves, this rich and extremely well put together display really captures the spirit of the artist and the adaptable nature of her work.

This is shown straight away, with the first painting that is signed and dated by the artist Susannah and the Elders (1610) – and extraordinarily sophisticated piece and even more so when considering the fact that she was 16 when she painted it. Her eye for detail and for capturing the personality of the characters featured in it reveals what an insightful artist she was. Artemisia would later return to this story with a later interpretation of the same scene in 1622, capturing a different side to the same image.

But it is not just through her paintings we gain a real insight into what a force of nature she was. Her voice comes through strongly through letters that she wrote – having taught herself to read and write. In the snippets that we hear in this tour, there is a real sense of strength in her personality with hints of vulnerability that make her fascinating and then can be seen through her work.

While much of her work was inspired by biblical or ancient history stories, the women are consistently put right at the heart of it as seen in the brutal portrayal of Judith slaying Holofernes. In this image the strength, the brutality and violence are shocking to witness – yet with the knowledge of the story and how Judith did what she did to protect her home, it becomes more about the courage and bravery of both Judith and her maid servant to carry out this act. Again, the level of detail makes it feel like an accurate and truthful portrayal of this story.  

All of the art selected for this exhibition is displayed against a series of black walls, which might have been slightly gloomy, but it actually makes the vibrancy and theatricality of Artemisia’s work stand out even more. This can be seen particularly through works such as Esther before Ahasuereus or Corisca and the Satyr for example.

Perhaps experiencing this exhibition in this way is not quite the same as being there in person, but it still does give you a strong sense of how ahead of her time as an artist she was. In this form, the exhibition is still intelligently presented and offers great insight into this extraordinary artist and her life.

By Emma Clarendon

Artemisia the curator led tour of the exhibition is available to view for £8 through the National Gallery. To find out more visit: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/artemisia-curator-led-exhibition-film

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐