Some people make the mistake of saying Feminist art began in the 70s. Well, I am here to tell you that women have been pissed off at being treated like second class citizens much earlier than that. As early as the 1500′s women were putting their foot down, one such woman was Artemisia Gentileschi.
Artemisia Gentileschi is probably one of my favorite artists ever. Seriously, at night before I go to sleep, I pray to her. St. Artemisia, the patron saint of feminist artists! Artemisia got off pretty lucky in those days, her father was an artist and taught her, though her work would exceed his in many ways.
The story behind the above portrait is a sad one. It is the story of Judith but also a personal theme of Artemisia. In the story of Judith, Judith slays the Assyrian general Holofernes after his army invades her country. She does this by getting him drunk and promising him information. When he passed out, she and her loyal maidservant decapitated him. She carried his head through her village and when his men saw her with his head, they fled.
Artemisia was raped, and has painted herself as Judith and her rapist as Holofernes. The ultimate revenge, she kills him for all eternity. However, as if the sexual assault was not bad enough, when she pressed charges against the man, she was tortured during the trial to ensure that she was being honest. Classic punishing of the victim, having to prove her innocence instead of her rapist. If you’d like to learn more about the agonies she endured: http://www.webwinds.com/artemisia/trial.htm
So lecherous men and women conquering were a big thing for her. While in the past, male artist portrayed these women as weak, and dainty, she showed them as the warriors that they were.
This is just some extra information to help you get a sense of the times she was painting in.
Monteverdi was composing:
Shakespeare was writing