Cover of Artemisia by Anna Banti. Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia tells the story of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who was one of the first. These are the opening words of Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia. Who is talking? And when? The first-person voice – that of the author – writes. Artemisia by Anna Banti – book cover, description, publication history.
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“Artemisia” by Anna Banti, translated by Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo
Artemisia is not a typical fiction in significant ways. It could be labelled as a biographical novel but follows little of the conventions one would expect.
There is no detailed or even comprehensive chronological narrative given of her life. Indeed one does not really get any significant pay off, no apogee in which Artemisia triumphs in her success, the author faithfully depicting her enjoyment of each subsequent advantage; followed by the usual moments of creative frustration, abject poverty, tainted love and so on. It could be called a historical novel, but Banti does not not regale us with the usual in-depth setting description and development, she invites no wonder at clothes, at physical surroundings and her writing does not vulgarly exhibit her no doubt thorough research on Artemisia Gentileschi.
What we have, as Susan Sontag articulated in her introduction, is a dialogue. A dialogue between Banti and the figure of Artemisia, three hundred years into the present. There is tension between the two as each seeks to navigate the account, the subject at times dissatisfied and domineering.
Artemisia is not pleased…She was expecting more, above all a logical, calm account, a carefully considered interpretation of her actions, the very thing that I can no longer give her, for she is too close to me.
Having her follow me so closely means that she distorts the images and memories I have of her. Now it is she who tells me about the time she went to San Paolo…. At other times she is petulant and passive, vulnerable and pitiful, or aggrieved and withdrawn. I now admit that it is not possible to recall to life and understand an action that happened three hundred years ago, far less and emotion, and what at the time was sadness or happiness.
These connected moments lend the novel a very unstudied and intimate air. It lends it an uber-fictional air that I found very satisfying, the extra life that I feel books like this need in order to avoid being historically didactic. Artemisia herself is a wonder to behold.
I remembered one of the conclusions I drew from a TLS review and thought it definitely applied to Banti in the 17th century: She is something of an idol for her younger brother Francesco, who sometimes tentatively but faithfully cares for her, holds enormous respect for talent, and asks for little or nothing in return.
Artemisia accepts this as her due. Her marriage is concocted so that she may respectably follow her artist banyi to Florence and foreseeably continue her work, without the husband. When she returned to him, for a ganti, to resume her wifely role she produces no art.
When she has a daughter the expectedly fierce maternal love and protection that wells up in her is something to be shocked and horrified at for their conformity to feminine ideals and also, Artejisia think, for the competition they could develop between her love for art and her child. No matter the verdict this scandal would have and did taint her public reputation and harden the minds of her neighbours who were already inclined to think badly of her, because of her unconventional interests and visible pride.
Artemisia by Anna Banti
The rooms in Rome that the family lived artemisiaa became bajti prison, where Artemisia would not even open the windows, no matter how hot, in order to avoid, finding what solace she could in herself and in her art, determined to excel.
It is ironic that she learned such strength of character, gained and learned such pride from her negligent father, Orazio. He is her idol who can do no wrong, who rarely if ever gives her filial attention or affection, who punished her with his silent condemnation for her lost virtue. Orazio certainly showed no signs of guilty emotions. His eyes only ever lit up when they talked about art. It was painful to read about this indomitable character turning into a humble mouse my the mere thought of her father.
Her pride, girlish and slightly arrogant, comes now to comfort her, a black, childlike angel, innocent and strong, that slowly returns to watch over her. It is not familiar with the humility, the softness, the cautious, touchy uncertainty of the female character; nothing holds the wind back from its wings. It can only be stopped by a feeling of affectionate awe if Artemisia Gentileschi thinks of her father. She must wean herself from it if she does not want to die of grief.
If anything this lack of support prepared her for the steely, artekisia unstable life xnna an artist. She sought her own commissions and successfully established a school with no help from her illustrious father. Women killing men—Judith hacking away at Holofernes, Jael dispatching Sisera.
And women killing themselves—Cleopatra, Lucrezia. Women vulnerable or humiliated or suing for mercy—Susanna and the Elders, the Penitent Magdalene, Esther before Ahasuerus. All subjects that suggest the torments of Artemisia herself, who had already done something heroic, virtually unheard of: My name is Julie-ann Frances Bowden and have just recently found about the reincarnation of Artemisia.
Odly enough my English names now are similar sounding to Gulio and Francesco which I found out after the reincarntion news.
California Italian Studies
I had a meditation to see my spirit guide once and saw a lady with hair buns on the side of her head and she told me her name was Sounding like Corintians and Kerry for short. My mum said we had an aunty Kerry before I was born and her name was artemidia similar to Caterina and Kerry for short and the family laughed about how she did her hair. In this medittion I saw a row of monks. Just been reading parts annx the the Artemisia story by Anna Banti, which is quite enlightening in ways.
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Artemisia by Anna Banti | U-M Library
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