"Artemisia": The Invention of a 'Real' Woman

by Susanna Scarparo
"Artemisia": The Invention of a 'Real' Woman
Susanna Scarparo
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Artemisia: The Invention of a 'Real'Woman

n 1985, the Florentine daily La Nazione announced the death of Anna Banti with the heading "Addio Artemisia!" (Wood 119). Although Banti published many other novels, short stories, and art history essays, Artemisiu was, and still is, her best-known work and arguably the source of her popularity.

The controversial Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593 and died around 1653 in Naples. Until the 1970s, she was generally considered a minor figure of her time. When Banti published Artemisia in 1947, the only in-depth art-historical engagement with Artemisia's work was the article "Gentileschi padre e figha," which had been published in 1916 by Banti's husband Roberto Longhi. He recog- nized that Artemisia "was a first-rate painter technically," but rated her as being "intellectually inferior, even to her father" (Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi 357). Bantis fictional biography, which to this date is the only biography of Artemisia -fictional or otherwise -written in Italian, challenges this latter assessment.l Today, art historians tend to agree with Bantis re-evaluation rather than with Longhi's verdict.

For feminist scholars, Artemisia has become an icon on account of having experienced the violence of patriarchal oppression -both intellectually and physically. She was ignored by art historians for several centuries, and as a young woman she was raped by her tutor, Agostino Tassi. Because of the relative absence of documentary material about her life and because a detailed account of her rape survived in court records, Artemisia has become both a mystery to be unravelled and a figure for identification?

In this article, I reflect on Banti's self-conscious process of identification with Artemisia and contrast it with other treatments of the Baroque artist by feminist critics involved in the debate generated by the 1998 film, Artemisiu, arguing that Banti's Artemisia reveals more about the ideolog- ical locations of Artemisia's interpreters than about the 'real' story of the woman who is the novel's subject. I take the argument that in Artemisia Banti creates herself in order to define herself as an exceptional woman strugghg to gain recognition as a writer, one step further and propose that her process of self-invention is not less fictional that her creation of Artemisia.3 In the following, I show how her narrator and Artemisia are two characters searching for an author and finding that the author's knowledge is not in any way 'authoritative.'

The novel covers roughly forty years of Artemisia Gentileschi's life. Banti's Artemisia is a motherless daughter of an absent and uncommu-
ITALICA Volume 79 Number 3 (2002)

nicative father, the painter Orazio Gentileschi. During her teens she is raped by one of her father's friends and fellow painters, Agostino Tassi. The rape and its succeeding trial force Artemisia to live for three years as a recluse in her father's house. During these years she works incessantly to become a professional painter. This time of isolation ends when her father chooses a husband for her, whom she soon leaves behind when following Orazio to Florence.

In this new city, Artemisia succeeds as a painter. She paints her famous Judith Beheading Holofernes, but in Florence she also becomes aware of her ambiguous and difficult position as a female artist. Her recognition and success, in fact, cannot protect her, and when her father leaves Florence for London, Artemisia retuns to Rome to live under the 'protection' of her husband. When the latter leaves her, Artemisia moves to Naples, where she gives birth to a daughter and where she truly becomes Maestra Arte- misia. Years later, she joins her father in England where she finds herself isolated, both artistically and linguistically. Yet it is here that she paints the Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, and it is here that her father finally acknowledges her ability and artistic talent.

From such a summary Banti's novel appears to be a story recounting the coming into being of Artemisia as an artist. But Artemisia could also be seen as the hitherto untold story of a neglected female artist who is dis- covered and brought to life by her biographer. Such a reading, however, is complicated by the process of self-identification between artist and biog- rapher, which the narrator openly discusses within the narrative. For Arte- misia herself is brought into the novel as both narrator of her story and character whose story is told by the authorlnarrator. The novel opens in the Boboli Gardens in the summer of 1944, during the last days of the Resistenza's fight in Florence, which was then in the hands of German troops. The narrator is grieving for the loss of a manuscript in which she supposedly told the life story of Artemisia Gentileschi.

The opening words of the novel are uttered by Artemisia herself, who appeals "Non piangere" (9)to a woman, the narrator, who is sitting on the gravel of a path, wearing only a nightdress, racked by sobs. The woman is crying for her devastated city but also-indeed most of all, as she comes to comprehend -she is "attonita, nella scoperta della perdita piii dolorosa" (10): the hundred pages in which she had given life to Artemisia. Such a realization is unbearable for the narrator, since the loss of the manuscript marks Artemisia's second death.

Consequently, the novel is also the story of the narrator's and of Arte- rnisia's attempts to remember the lost manuscript. The narrator and the character share the memories of Artemisia's life as it was recounted in the lost novel. What they struggle to remember and to narrate is not the story of the 'real' Artemisia Gentileschi but rather the life of the fictional Artemisia, a character in a lost manuscript. The text which is produced is, as Derek Duncan suggests, "an act of restitution for the forgotten life of Artemisia Gentileschi," but also "a discourse of self-identification which is pursued throughout the text" (160).

This process of explicit self-identification reveals Banti's understanding of art and literature as a means by which one may challenge the repro- duction of, or even the possibility to reproduce, a commonly accepted view of reality. As Duncan argues, what is at stake in her novel, is the use of literature to engage with the systems of power through which an idea of the real is expressed and made natural (163). Hence Banti presents Artemisia as a fictional character looking for her story, which is, in turn, supposed to exist only in another work of fiction. The complexity of Banti's novel lies in the fact that it recounts three parallel stories: the account of the life of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi, the struggle to remember the lost manuscript and to rewrite it, and the relationship between the fictional character Artemisia and the narrator.

Although the three stories run parallel, they are also interconnected by the issue of the lost manuscript. The lost manuscript, the grieving for its loss, and the attempt to rewrite it become metaphors through which and loci in which Banti rejects clear-cut boundaries between the historical novel, autobiography biography and fiction. Furthermore, the lost manu- script stands for the lost histories of the many women who over the cen- turies have lived, loved, suffered, and hoped for a better life. Consequently the despair for the loss of the manuscript is the despair for the loss of women's history which Virginia Woolf articulated in A Room of One's Own.From this point of view, one may argue with JoAnn Cannon that Banti, with Artemisia, anticipated the revisionist work of feminist scholars committed to challenging the prejudices and biases of traditional histo- riography (3263.

Yet Artemisia is not an attempt to set the record straight. Banti uses her dialoguewith the fictional Artemisia to reflect on the role that writing may play in order to provide alternative memories, or in order to 'remember,' as she would have it. For Banti, 'to remember' is a process whereby history becomes historical memory through interpretation. 'To remember,' then, especially for women, means to participate in the writing of history, which, as Banti underlines, does not write itself.

This emphasis on remembering has become a sigruficant issue for feminist historians. Billie Melman, for instance, asks how women have come to be remembered and what kinds of narratives have been invented to include them in the collective memory -which she defines as "the national memory or the memory of the elites or social classes" -from which they were excluded (5).Banti's Artemisia pro- vides a narrative of inclusion, yet one that carefully emphasizes the role of writing and fiction in (re)creating historical memory.

Banti's perception of the role of writing as a means by which one may counteract the loss of memory finds expression in the bond between the narrator and the fictional Artemisia. Through the depiction of a communal effort to remember the lost manuscript, Banti grants Artemisia Genti- leschi a life story in which she is both a participant narrator and a biogra- phical subject. In several instances, as, for example, in the opening scene of the novel, Artemisia either speaks in the first person or she addresses the (initially) reluctant narrator.

Artemisia's active presence in the shaping of her own story facilitates trust in the veracity of her narrative and elicits empathy and emotional involvement on the part of the reader, who cannot help but share Arte- misia's intense desire for her story to be told. Her presence in the story's present also reminds the reader that Artemisia is a fictional character: how could a woman dead for three centuries speak to us now?

The reader may not, and indeed may not need to, distinguish between Artemisia Gentileschi, the painter born in 1593, and Artemisia Genti- leschi, Banti's (and probably, by the end of the novel, the reader's) com- panion "che respirava adagio" (10) on the pages of a novel. The fictional and the real have become interwoven, for the only 'real' image of Arte- misia Gentileschi that lives in the present is the one that Banti's narrator, and the reader's own relationship with her, bring to life. In a dialogue with her character, the narrator expresses the collapse of the 'real' into the imaginary, and vice versa as follows:

Per eluderla la interrogo; non senza cattiva ironia. "E non smetti di rim- piangere? Rimpiangi anche Serafino Spada, un nome inventato, quello di cui la mano tremb scrivendo il verbale quando ti diedero la corda? Aveva veramente le lentiggini e gli occhi gialli ma pietosi? Bergamasco? Arrivato a Roma nel seicentootto? Quando bruab palazzo Farnese? . . . [Slotto le mie palpebre strette a forza, il volto d'Artemisia s'infoca come quello di una donna litigiosa: potrei toccarlo e le vedo in mezzo alla fronte quella ruga verticale che ebbe dalla prima eta e non fece che approfondirsi. (18)

In this passage, as in many others in the novel, Banti highlights the metafictional quality of her writing process. The question, "E non smetti dirimpiangere?," which the narrator addresses to Artemisia and to herself (and perhaps to the reader), points to Banti's awareness that her account of the painter's life-story is yet another ad of interpretation. She poignantly shows the paradoxical position of the revisionist writer who strives to give a voice to a silenced woman from the past. With whose voice does the silenced woman speak? The answer, at first, seems obvious: Arte- misia's ability to speak depends on the author/narratorls willingness to let her speak. The authorlnarrator is, in fact, the one who has the privilege to invent a story for her character. Yet Artemisia's inflamed and hot-tempered face acquires a reality that seemingly goes beyond the narrator's control. The narrator faces the 'realiq of her own creation, as she can "reach and touch Artemisia's vertical line in the middle of her forehead. And so Artemisia comes alive, screams like a "sonnambula furibonda" and speaks with "la voce roca" and "l'accento smozzicato della popolana di Borgo" (18).

The position of the writer who strives to 'remember' the forgotten story of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi is thus ambiguous. The line between 'truth' -albeit one that is appmpriated and interpreted -and imagina- tion is blurred. The voice Banti so much wishes to hand back to Arte- misia is ultimately her author's. Nonetheless, it is a voice that speaks whether it belongs to Anna Banti, to Artemisia Gentile&& or to both -and as such it is the voice of a woman who defies silence in order to claim her own words. What follows is that, even though the historical Artemisia Gentileschi, in her reality, is lost to us now, Banti's engagement with that lost image has consequences which come from the past but live in the present. Banti's Artemisia insists on her own existence, encouraging the narrator (and the reader) to ignore that she is a figment of the imagina- tion. For Artemisia, truth and fiction are equally sigruficant:

Ora 12per me sola che Arternisia reata la lezione, vuol provarmi di credere tutto quel che inventai e si fa tanto docile che persino i suoi capelli cam- biano di colore, divengono quasi neri, e olivastro l'incarnato: tale io l'immaginavo quando incominciai a leggere i verbali del suo process0 sulla carta fiorita di muffa. Chiudo gli occhi e per la prima volta le do del tu. "Non importa, Artemisia, non importa ricordare quel che il giudice pensasse delle dome: se ne scrissi, non era vero." China la testa, ritoma di quel biondo opaco delle ragazze malsane, dal sudore aado; ma insiste. (20-21; my emphasis)

The effort to remember that which is lost -be that Artemisia's real history, Artemisia's fictional history, or women's history at large becomes part of the narrative as Banti includes the story of the relation- ship between the narrator and her characterlnarrator in the plot of the novel. Such a relationship also allows Banti to fictionalize her own nar- rator, thus turning her into another character of the story. The narrator, therefore, seen -and seeing herself -in the act of remembering Arte- misia's story, becomes herself the object of Banti's invention. To this end, the relationship between the two characters/narrators becomes part of the narrative and develops into a story within the stories that form Banti's text.

Ultimately Artemisia and her biographer are both involved in the same struggle: that of remembering the lost manuscript. The rewriting of the lost manuscript is an act that allows both women to claim the mem- ories as their own. Since it is the narrator who wrote the manuscript in the first place, she attempts to remember her own ad of writing. She needs to remember her own past; that of writing the manuscript. At the same time, the subject of the manuscript is Artemisia's life story. Hence Arte- misia, like the narrator, strives to remember her past. Intertwining their pasts, each woman is thus seeking to remember her own past through the other's.

In her essays on historical fiction and on Alessandro Manzoni, Banti explains that for her, historical memory is only accessible through a process of interpretation (Opinioni38-43; 53-65). Her recovery of history is necessarily mediated by means of fictional writing. This is how the narrator in Artemisia illustrates her method of interpreting the records of Artemisia's life to ensure her survival in the present:

Quella che mi consolb, che rimpianse e fu con me viva e viva esaltata, mi occupa come un personaggio che nessuno possa ignorare, di fama illustre, di esempio pregnante: un personaggio dalla biografia ovvia, anno per anno, che val la pena di risuscitare ora per ora, proprio nei giorni in cui la sua storia tace. Non una pagina risale dalle macerie, ma la memoria di una specie di testo, di manuale illustrato. Agostino prosciolto e dimesso per gli intrighi di Cosimo furiere e i venali uffici di Giarnbattista Stiattesi; Orazio Gentileschi restituito a una impassibilita intellettuale appena venata di disgusto; Artemisia ridotta da una effimera scandalosa celebnth a una solitudine riotosa e insidiata: ecco fatti che mi valgono -e non so se arrossirne -come una seconda guerra punica. Si pub ben conget- turare cosa mangiassero gli elefanti africani in Italia; si pub ben pensare alle serate di Artemisia nell'estate rnilleseicentoquindici. (29)

The memory left for us by the surviving historical documents of Arte- misia's life is inscribed in the records of the lost manuscript, along with the narrator's effort to 'remember,' once again, that which has to be imag- ined in order to be 'remembered.' The urgency of her desire to revive Artemisia from the silence of both the lost manuscript and the insuffi- cient historical records of her life motivates the narrator's quest to imagine what might have happened if silence had not been her character's des- tiny Notably the association of Artemisia with the second Punic War one of the foundational myths of Italian history -grants her sigruficance as a historical subject. In the words of JoAnn Cannon, "to suggest that the facts of Artemisia's history are on a par with the Punic War is to reconceive our view of what is historically relevant," pushing for "the reconceptualization of Western history from the perspective of margin- alized subjects" (326).

According to Paola Cad, Banti's privileging of the "fatto supposto" over Manzoni's advocacy for the "fatto awenuto" shows her commitment to writing historical narratives by including both "historical characters and characters who lack a history" (88). Hence Cad argues that Banti "investigates the void left by the silence of historiography on history" (90).

In Artemisia, however, Banti makes a distinction between history, histo- riography and the past. The past, exemplified by the lost manuscript, in itself can never be recovered as it really was. History on the other hand, intended as the writing of that past, is what allows us to 'remember' by way of imagining. History then, can only be the writing of the verisimilar, and historiography the writing about the writing of the past: in other words, the writer's own process of 'remembering.' This process of remem- bering recalls Benedetto Croce's claim that the individual is a product of the past and lives immersed in and encompassed by it (43). For the indi- vidual to face and make sense of this past, it is necessary that it be reduced to a mental process. This process, which Croce called historical thought, transforms "the great variety of the past" into "its own material and trans- figures it into its object," while the writing of histories becomes a way of "getting rid of the weight of the past" (44). Conversely, for Banti, "getting rid of the weight of the past" (Croce 44) does not involve the attempt to know the past as a fatto awenuto, but involves a metafictional reflection on her process of 'remembering' the fatto supposto.

Banti's evocation of the circumstances under which Artemisia paints Judith Beheading Hobfm shows how the writer's process of 'remembering,' which turns historical documents -such as the actual painting -into fictional recreations, results from the identification between Banti and Artemisia. A commonly accepted view is that the slaying of Holofernes represents Artemisia Gentileschi's symbolic revenge on her rapist, Agostino Tassi (Duncan 161; Heller, "Remembering Artemisia" 105; Spear 570). Whether or not we accept this interpretation, Banti's narra- tor does imagine that there is some identification between her charac- ter, Artemisia, and Artemisia's character, Judith:

Le sciocche dame non s'accorgevano di chi fosse la truculenza che, sulla tela, Giuditta aveva principiato a scoprire: di buon'ora e sola Artemisia aveva cercato nello specchio i tratti dell'eroina e le aveva risposto un ghigno che ormai antichi motivi ispiravano. (46)

The identification between the painter and her heroine in Banti's novel is sigruficant not so much because Artemisia uses Judith in order to exorcise her rage towards Agostino Tassi, but because the painter shows herself in the act of creating her character while looking into the mirror. Indeed, it is Arternisia's creator, the narrator, who shows her own character in the process of creating another character. By exposing Arternisia's identifica- tion with her character, Judith, the narrator in turn gestures towards her own identification with her character, Artemisia. Thus, a process of mise en abime is set in motion whereby the reader is encouraged to remember that the narrator is also a character, Banti's, who is seen in the ad of creating her character who creates another character. As we move from character to character, the image of Artemisia looking into the mirror reminds us of Bantis self-exposed identification with both her characters, that is, the narrator and Artemisia.

Banti elucidates the distinction between the past, history, and histori- ography by using as part of her fiction both the attempt to 'remember' the lost manuscript of Artemisia's story and the dialogue with Artemisia which then becomes the recognition of the impossibility to remember the painter as she really was. In this respect, the lost manuscript serves two functions. On the one hand, it is a metaphor for Arternisia Gentileschi, the painter whose work and life have been obliterated by the official establishment of the great masters. But on the other, it is sigruficant that the manuscript has been lost and that the only novel that isconceivable for the narrator is the account of this loss, which, in turn,results in the account of the striving to remember both -the lost manuscript and the account of its loss -in order to re-write them. Here the author reminds us that alongside the historical Artemisia there is another Arternisia, a fictional character, who has been lost, and who, by virtue of being lost, reminds the narrator that what is lost cannot be discovered and brought to life.

Fq years since the publication of Artemisiu, and at a time when many literary theorists and philosophers of history have problematized the idea of a past that can be brought to life, the controversial debate following the release of Artemisia, a 1998 film about the painter, shows the enduring relevance of Bantis conceptualization of the role of fiction in the writing of the past into history.

The controversy was sparked by the film's portrayal of Tassi's rape of Artemisia as a willing ad of love and passion. Prior to the film's release in the United States, its distniutor, Miramax, invited eminent North American feminist intellectuals, among them Susan Sontag and Gloria Steinem, to participate in a panel discussion. The distributor's offer backfired, since after seeing the film, Steinem, and the art historian Mary Garrard wrote a "fad sheet" in which they outlined what they saw as "the film's outra- geous liberties" (Garrard, "Artemisia's Trial by Cinema" 69). The fact sheet was then distributed at the films premiere and later placed on the internet under the title "Now You've Seen the Film, Meet the Real Arte- misia Gentileschi." More copies of the fad sheet were subsequently handed out at screenings in several major North American cities.

In her film, director Agnes Merlet fashioned Artemisia as a sexy, provocative and defiant young woman who enjoys a passionate and loving relationship with her older teacher. Disregarding the convention that pre- vented women to draw nude male bodies, Artemisia convinces a friend to pose for her. Eager to learn about sexuality, she spies on a couple making love on a beach, and peeps through the window while her futurelover is engaged in an orgy with his friends. Her curiosity about Tassi and about sex are supposedly motivated by her desire to become more knowl- edgeable in matters of sex and anatomy for the purposes of her painting.

Artemisia's enthusiasm for painting functions merely as an excuse for introducing her love affair with Tassi. Indeed, although her passion for painting is strongly emphasized, it is nonetheless obfuscated by her love for the older artist. This is confirmed by the fad that the story is entirely taken over by the love affair, while Artemisia's artistic achievements are quickly accounted for, by way of an appendix, at the end of the film.

Merlet's Artemisia is a young woman whose heroism, as Mary Garrard points out, consists "of acting on her sexual impulses, and whose chal- lenge to society lies in her giving in to love in an era of arranged mar- riages" ("Artemisia's Trial by Cinema" 66). Film reviewers called her a seventeenth-century Lolita, also describing her as a ruthlessly ambitious painting prodigy and "a saucy but virtuous siren" (Anon. E21; Holden E12). There is no denying that Merlet's representation of Artemisia is voyeuristic and predictably positions Artemisia as an object of desire for both Tassi and the audience. Although Artemisia herself actively expresses her own desire for Tassi, the desire of the audience is ultimately directed towards Artemisia as a sexually attractive woman.

Following widespread criticism of the film, Merlet -also co-writer of the script with Christine Miller -defended her position: "You cannot take the testimony at the first level. I didn't try to make a documentary about the trial, but made my own interpretation. For me, she really was in love with him, but there was manipulation around them" aones 15s). Merlet, who described herself as a feminist and claimed to have made a feminist filmI argued that her story of the Gentileschi-Tassi affair is an effort to portray Artemisia's inner struggles.

While Merlet emphasized her role in constructing her version of the events, Garrard appealed to 'evidence' aswell asto the commonly accepted view that Artemisia had been raped -a view that Garrard herself had helped to establish and that she assumed to be self-evident.4 "There is no evidence for a consensual relationship," she protested (Jones 15s). Germaine Greer supported Garrard: "there's no question about the traumatic nature of this event. If anyone wants to turn that into a love story, well f . . . them" (Jones 15s).

Garrard has been suspicious of any fictional interpretation of Arte- misia's life. In a footnote to her 1982 article, "Artemisia and Susanna," she dismisses Anna Banti's Artemisia,describing it as a fictional romance and claiming that it sustains "emphasis upon the artist's love life" (171). Similarly, she notes that Merlet's film "raises troubling questions about the responsibility of art to truth," expressing concern with the cultural role played by the presentation of history in fictionalized accounts ("Artemisia's Trial by Cinema" 69).

Yet there is some ambiguity in her allegedly more careful approach to Artemisia. "The film . ..assumes it is impossible to empathise with the woman in the trial transcript" Garrard comments. "Yet, it's because feminist art historians can identify with Gentileschi that she inspires such passion" (Jones 15s). Here Garrard acknowledges her identification with Artemisia, although her remark assumes that hers is an act shared by other feminist art historians. She condemns "this misrepresentation," "this dishonoring" of Artemisia, because "she has been an important cultural role model for women, especially artists" ("Artemisia's Trial by Cinema" 69). She does not question the role that other contemporary interpretations have played in moulding the painter into a cultural role model for women, and implies that art historians and other bona fide scholars are able to provide an accu- rate and truthful picture of the historical Artemisia Gentileschi.

The arthistorian Griselda Pollock, by contrast, emphasizes that in spite of its inaccuracy with regard to the historical record, the filmcannot be dismissed simply on the basis of the licence it takes with chronology. Pollock is more concerned with the ending of the film, where a claim is made that Artemisia is considered the first woman painter in the history of art. According to Pollock, this assertion perpetuates the myth of the woman artist as a rare exception and a belated oddity. In this respect, Pollock criticizes the film's complicity with the stories in popular circu- lation dealing with the figure of the woman artist (27).

Pollock is less interested in assessing the film's historical depiction of Artemisia, and more in the questions it raises about the complex relation- ship between historical truth and story-telling (27). She points out that Artemisia has been "rewritten in terms of American feminist ideas of the hero, which she isn't. She's a Catholic woman growing up in 17thcentury Rome. She can't be remade as a superhero for feminism" (Jones 15s).

To reflect on the problematic relationship between historical truth and story-telling, it may be helpful to question the assertion that Artemisia "can't be remade into a superhero for feminism" (Jones 15s, my emphasis) because, since she belonged to another time and another context, she was not one. It may be more effective to problematize one's own discursive position, that is, to reflect on the many ways in which Artemisia is rewritten in the present in order to tease out what these representations of a woman from the past are actually saying about the present. Claiming to write the story of Artemisia as it really happened by appealing to the authority of the rape trial and to other historical evidence leads one to forget that one's own location in the present determines the history of the past one writes. Artemisia Gentileschi as she really was is a mirage.

In Artemisia, Banti emphasizes the fictionality of her Artemisia and celebrates the power that fiction gives her to invent both herself and her character. By stressing Artemisia's fictionality, however, Banti alerts us to the concealment that the writing of history art history, and biography (be they feminist or otherwise) often involves. This is particularly evident in Banti's innovative interpretation of Artemisia's Self-Portrait as the Allego y of Painting, which, she claims, is the portrait of Annella de Rosa, a young and talented painter Artemisia has befriended in Naples.

Annella de Rosa comes to a bad end. After a long time of abuses, her jealous husband kills her. Deborah Heller argues that Artemisia's painting of the younger artist "emerges as a triumphant affirmation of female soli- darity.." She claims that "as an accomplished artist," Artemisia "makes actual the ideal of female friendship through a painting that celebrates the creative spirit in another woman" (Heller, "Remembering Artemisid 107). Similarly Cannon has noted that Banti's transformation of the self-portrait into a celebration of Annella foreshadows recent feminist theories, in that Artemisia fashions herself as a "Symbolic Mother" for the younger artist (335). Artemisia resurrects Annella first in her own memory and then on the canvas for history to remember.

Other commentators have interpreted Banti's rewriting as an affir- mation of a female heritage. By celebrating another female painter, they have argued, Artemisia has created a feminocentric image in which the self is expressed and mediated through a vision of a female artist at work (Finucci 185-86; Heller, "History, Art, and Fiction" 55-58; Duncan 162; Toniglia 36847).

This is how Banti describes Artemisia's motivations:

Vuol vedere questo angelo "sbattimentato," vuole approvare, ammirare. Che una donna si faccia onore 6 il suo onore, nessuno la privi di mostrarsi generosa e giusta in un cirnento . . . .Ora ecco Annella risorta per caso, Annella che avrebbe trent'anni appena se il pugnale di un uomo non l'avesse stesa a terra e lasciata esangue, livida come una Lucrezia, una Cleopatra. (179)

Artemisia's desire to resurrect Annella shows her commitment to pre- serve the younger woman's memory. The resurrection is also an ad of resti- tution for the injustice suffered by the young artist, whose premature death prevents her from creating the art that would have made her famous. By painting her portrait and by depicting her in the act of painting, the older artist -mirroring the narrator's resurrection of Artemisia -makes it possible for Annella to be remembered and to be recognized as an artist. Thereby Artemisia celebrates Annella's art and establishes a relationship between them as artists. Yet the identification between Artemisia and Annella has more implications. Artemisia mentions Annews death merely to regret that the young painter had been unable to secure her reputation before dying. The description of the violence suffered by Amella serves to show what could have happened to Artemisia herself, had she lived in a more conventional household.

In Artemisia's eyes, Amella welcomes her femininity. Banti contrasts the young artist's ease at being a woman with Artemisia's loneliness and inability to behave according to her gender. Ultimately however, Arte- misia survives the obstacles of being a woman who refuses to conform, while Annella perishes at the hands of the husband who guaranteed her the respectability denied to the older artist. The identification with Annella as she paints her portrait points to Artemisia's awareness of her missed destiny. In turn,by putting Amella's face in the place of her own she offers the unfortunate woman an alternative fate. Conversely Arte- misia's life of solitude comes to be seen in a new light: her painful isola- tion has allowed her to become the accomplished artist she now knows herself to be. It also helps her to be in the position to remember and irnmor- talize Annella.

As Banti's narrator presents her character identifying with Annella, she also establishes her own identification with Artemisia; and while the narrator is seen as idenhfymg with Artemisia, so is Banti. Heller points out that by celebrating and giving life to Annella, Artemisia finds that the other woman's honor also becomes a source of pride for her. So Banti, too, "finds honor for herself in another woman's creative achievement" in celebrating and resurrecting Artemisia (Heller, "History Art, and Fiction" 57). This process is then inverted and Artemisia -while painting what is supposed to be her self-portrait -is also seen in the ad of bringing into existence her own creator, Anna Banti. It may not be coincidental that Annella and Artemisia's creator share the same name: "'Buon giomo, Anna!' diceva Artemisia, entrata come a caso -ma a caso non era -e avanzando verso la giovane trasandata, quasi discinta nella foga del dipingere" (179).

With her greeting, "Buon giomo Anna!," Artemisia brings both Annella and her author, Anna Banti, into the present of her life in England, while also locating herself in the present of Banti's writing of the novel. Thus like Annella for her, Artemisia becomes a companion for Banti as she co- authors the story of her life.

Artemisia's relationship with Banti is usually mediated through the narrator. Yet, often Banti exposes herself in the act of creating her char- acter, the narrator, who in turn is seen in the act of creating her character, Artemisia. This mirroring becomes a game where Artemisia and her author -be that Banti or her narrator -chase each other through the labyrinths of history and across the layers of time that separate their cen- turies: "Noi giochiamo a rincorrerci, Artemisia ed io" (90).

In her invention and re-writing of Artemisia -aptly described as a chasing game -Banti shows how both she and her narrator idenbfy with Artemisia, situating her in their own time, arguing with her and believing that she enjoyed their interpretations. But by thereby revealing her own ad of self-refledion and invention, Banti also suggests that the writing of the self, like tlw writing of the past based on historical documents, is a matter of interpretation: there is no access to objective, unmediated truth. Conversely she underlines both the desire to permeate the inaccessibility of the past's radical difference from the present and the impossibility to fulfiusuch a desire.

In Banti's novel the past as it really was, that is, the historical Arte- misia Gentileschi, is presented as a lost manuscript. By emphasizing her own ad of identification and by staging her own, as well as Artemisia's, struggle to remember the lost manuscript -which is then tied to the act of self-invention and to representation -Banti underlines the ideological implications inherent in refusing to acknowledge the past's inaccessible otherness. The past, however, like Banti's Artemisia, acquires meanings in and through the present. The search for Artemisia, then, is the means through which the radical otherness of the past is made visible.

The only possible relationship between Banti and her companion from three centuries ago is one in which the loss for the historical Artemisia is replaced by the chasing game the character and the author engage in. Given that she had been lost -and this loss refers to both the fictional manuscript and the historical artist -Artemisia is believed to enjoy and to need her author's interpretations of her life as much as her author does. The perils inherent in such a relationship between past and present may frighten Artemisia's biographer, yet "la trepidazione d'averla ritrovata cosi viva" (102) comes with the reward of feeling her standing behind one's back, present.
Monash UniversitylAustralia


llonghi's discussion of Artemisia's work, particularly with regard to her versions of Judith Decapitating Holofernes, is colored by remarks such as "This is a temble woman! How could a woman paint all this?" (Spear 569).

2The feminist discovery of Artemisia Gentileschi (in the English-speaking world) as a neglected example of an artist in need of recognition began in the 1970s. See Nochlin

(344) and Tufts (59). In 1976, Ann Harris and Linda Nochlin curated the pioneering exhi- bition "Women Artists: 155G1950," which featured selected works by Artemisia. Following the 1976 exhibition, Artemisia has been consistently included in anthologies of women artists. Artemisia's Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting was used for the cover of Elsa Fine's 1978 monograph Women andArt: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. Germaine Greer in her 1979 book on women painters, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work,reserved a chapter for Artemisia Gentileschi. In 1981, Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, in Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology, discussed Artemisia's ingenious depiction of female characters in her paintings (20-26). The art historian Mary Garrard, however, is the scholar responsible for Artemisia's recognition as a leading artist. Garrard's extensive study of the painter's works began with her articles "Artemisia Gentileschi's Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting" (1980), "Artemisia and Susanna" (1982), and "Artemisia Gentileschi" in The Female Autograph (1984). Garrard's com- mitment to Artemisia was camed on in her acclaimed book-length study, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art, published in 1989, and in her recent study Artemisia Gentileschi around 1622: The Shaping and Reshaping of an Artistic Identity (2001). In 1991 in Florence, Roberto Contini and Gianni Papi organized the first exhibition dedicated solely to Artemisia's artistic production, and in 1993 the Rizzoli Art Series published an issue on Artemisia Gentileschi, which was compiled by Garrard. A new exhibition focusing on works by Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi was shown in Rome between October 2001 and January 2002, and then at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and at the Art Museum in St Louis.

3~hepoint has been made that in order to "signal the victory" of the author's "pri- vate, individualistic struggles," Banti blatantly changes and eventually eclipsesktemisia as a historical figure in her own right (Lazzaro-Weis 39). Indeed, the narrator created by Banti (who as a writer in post-war Italy identifies with Artemisia's courage for daring to assert herself as an artist) resembles all too clearly her author. Sharon Wood points out that Artemisia, above all, is "a meditation on the woman artist," and a reflection on "the struggle between public and private, work and mamage," which Banti herself "felt so acutely in her own life" (120). Banti (1895-1985) was one of the most prominent women writers of her generation and remained a prolific writer right up to her death at the age of ninety. Her last novel, Un grido lacerante (1981) was awarded the 1982 Antonio Feltri- nelli Prize and finished second in the 1981 Campiello Prize competition. Many of her previous novels and short stories had also been awarded prestigious literary prizes, such as the Viareggio Prize in 1952 for Le donne muoiono (1951), the Marzotto Prize in 1955 for Allarme sul lago (1954), and the Veillon Prize in 1957 for La monaca di Sciangai e altri racconti (1957). Yet according to fellow writer Maria Bellonci, Banti arguably failed to win the Strega PrizeforArtemisia because the decision of the jury had been iduenced by prejudices against women writers (LV). Like many of her female characters, including Arternisia, Banti was disadvantaged and disempowered asa woman artist. As Banti herself lucidly commented "Sono citata nelle enciclopedie, sono presente nelle antologie. Ma una scrittrice, anche se di successo, B wmunque emarginata. La diranno grande fra le altre scrittrici, ma non la equipareranno agli scrittori. E un'usanza diffusa" (Petrignani 106).

4~eein particular Garrard's 1989 monograph, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art.


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