Recently opened at The Vordun Museum and Gallery, operated and curated by Jake Vordun, is a stunning exhibition of art from the physical world offering a celebration and exploration of the life and work of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) also known as Artemisia Lomi), one of the most accomplished artists of the Baroque period, (c. 1625-1740).
Born in Rome on the 8th July, 1593, the eldest child Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni and noted Tuscan artist Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia took up art at an early age, and was producing professional works by the age of fifteen. Like her father, she followed the innovations set by Caravaggio – such as the use of real models – whilst also developing a natural eye for the use of the brush and in the mixing of paint and use of colour to depict the female figure with a naturalism which extended beyond the more idealistic approach of her male peers.
Initially regarded more out of curiosity than in recognition of her skills – she came to wider public knolwedge as a result of the trial of artist Agostino Tassi, who raped her when she was 18 – by the time she was in her early twenties, she had become the first woman accepted into the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in Florence. As her work gained a broader audience, so to did her career flourish through patronage and hard work, her art carrying her from Florence back to Rome, thence to Naples – and even to England and the court of King Charles I.
As well as its depth of realism, her work is notable for its focus on women from myths, allegories, and the Bible, with many featuring herself as one of – if not the – protagonists. Her art eschews the more accepted view of the female form – that of a gentle, sensitive, vulnerable creature – to instead present women as figures of power, strength, and the equal of men.
The exhibition at The Vordun – entitled Allegories of Artemisia – is an extensive look at Artemisia’s work offering one of the most unique gatherings of reproductions of her art to been seen outside of the printed page. A collaborative display by Jake Vordun (producer), Marina Münter (vivresavie) – curator; Paul Gils (ObertonX) – research assistant; and Cibele Cibernética (profetadigital) – graphics designer, it is a multi-room exhibit made all the more abosrbing by its non-linear approach to Artemisia’s life and art, one which – in the words of those responsible for the exhibition:
[Traces] a parallel between the the characters she depicted in her paintings and her own life, the visitor gets the chance to experience real scale works by her and artists from the same period, given the chance to analyse visually the aspect of her work.
From the introduction of Allegories of Artemisia
On accessing the exhibition from the gallery’s main hall, vistors should follow the route through the opening to the right. This takes a route through a series of rooms, starting with a general introduction to Artemisia Gentileschi, followed by a series of self-portraits that help into introduce both the artist and the artistic tradition of a painter focusing on a subject more than once during their career.
From here, further rooms offer reproductions of some of Artemisia’s more noted works drawn from biblical stories (including from deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament), together with reproductions of the same subject by her male contemporaries – thus providing that opportunity to directly compare the work of Artemisia with her contemporaries, and appreciate both the uniqueness of her depiction of female characters and the depth of naturalism found within her work.
Wall text in each room help contextualise the subjects of the paintings and also to provide historical / biographical information (such as on Artemisia herself or her father) where relevant. This set of rooms culminate in a three-part section dealing with the deuterocanonical character of Judith which include both Judith Beheading Holofernes and Judith and Her Maidservant. This in itself is an exquisitely framed and presented series of images – some of them the most famous of the Baroque period – forming an exhibition-within-an-exhibition.
Beyond these initial rooms lies a large hall that brings together further pairings and small groups of paintings by Artemisia and other artists of her period (one of which includes a piece by one of her few female contemporaries – Elizabetta Sirani), and well as individual pieces by Artemisia. This is bracketed to one side by two further “themed” sub-sections entitled Church Commissions and Mary Magdalene.
Throughout the exhibition there is a wealth of information carefully brought together by the organisers. Each painting is presented with a plaque supplying the title of the piece, the name of the artist, the approximate time in which it was painted, and where it resides today. In typical Vordun style, these plaques can be clicked to display their information in local chat. Meanwhile, the main hall includes a timeline of Artemisia’s life, defined in terms of the recognised periods of her work as an artist, and the notable events within them, together with a small display of works by other artists and inspired by her work and life.
Since its inception, the Vordun has presented a series of long-duration, richly immersive exhibitions that seek to replicate the experience gained within a physical world museum, whilst presenting exhibits which either cannot be reproduced in the physical world or, if they do have something of a physical world analogue, are far more accessible than their counterpart might be. All of this makes The Vordun an engaging visit, and Allegories of Artemisia adds to this enormously.
When visiting The Vordun, do be sure to accept the local experience and specifically for Allegories of Artemisia, make sure your viewer is set to Used Shared Environment.
- The Vordun Museum and Gallery (Vordun, rated Moderate)