One of the finest surviving self-portraits by Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, has been added to the exhibition Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace at The Queen's Gallery
Gentileschis Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) joins more than 60 of the most treasured paintings in the Royal Collection, which are on display at The Queens Gallery until February 2022. The exhibition brings together spectacular works by artists including Vermeer, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and Canaletto in a modern gallery setting for the first time, allowing them to be viewed away from the historic interiors of Buckingham Palace where they usually hang.
Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of the Italian Baroque painter Orazio Gentileschi and trained in his studio. In an era when few women had the opportunity to work as professional artists, Artemisia was the first woman to join the prestigious Florentine Academy and her paintings were in high demand amongst the European nobility.
Gentileschi was invited to London in the 1630s by Charles I, and possibly produced the self-portrait during her time in England. With brush and palette in hand, she cleverly portrays herself as the female personification of painting something her male contemporaries could never do. Self-portraits by women artists of this date rarely demonstrate the physicality of painting, but Gentileschi depicts herself in a dirtied apron, her sleeves rolled up to expose her muscular forearms. As a self-portrait the painting is particularly sophisticated and accomplished; the position in which Artemisia has portrayed herself would have been extremely difficult for an artist to capture.
The painting is one of a number in the exhibition that were acquired by Charles I, sold following the Kings execution in 1649 and then recovered by Charles II at the Restoration. The 1666 inventory of Charles IIs collection at Whitehall Palace shows that Gentileschis self-portrait was displayed in the most intimate area of the royal apartments, accessible only to the Kings closest acquaintances and family, demonstrating the esteem in which it was held.
The self-portrait, which has recently been on loan to the National Gallery, has been installed in the Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace exhibition alongside Cristofano Alloris Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1613. Allori was a close friend of Artemisias and godfather to her son, and it is possible that his depiction of the biblical tale inspired Artemisias famed painting of the same subject.