Book Review: "The Passion of Artemisia" by Susan Vreeland

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"We've been lucky. We've been able to live by what we love. And to live painting, as we have, wherever we have, is to live passion and imagination and connection and adoration, all the best of life—to be more alive than the rest."
The Passion of Artemisia
It had always bothered me that we rarely learned about female painters in my college art history courses, especially the ones before our modern era. The one exception was Artemisia Gentileschi, the daughter of an Italian Baroque painter (Orazio Gentileschi) who stood out as a luminary despite great odds.

Raped, humiliated at the trial, and then treated as an anomaly because of her passion for painting, Artemisia was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. Her paintings depicted strong women who had suffered, often with a Biblical theme.

You can tell that Susan Vreeland really enjoyed writing about Artemisia, and while this was a fictional novel, I found that it was incredibly accurate and well-written. I could tell that behind every word was Vreeland's passion for telling this story. She wants you to know about Artemisia, to love her, to cheer her on. And you do. Even if you're not an art buff, it's impossible not to let the story draw you in. Fans of Wolf HallThe Agony and the Ecstasy, and Ken Follett will love this book. Recommended.

Her most famous painting was Judith Beheading Holofernes (1611-12), below.