on April 10, 2008
As the book opens, we find Artemisia, Italian Painter, at age 18 in court. At first it appears that she is the accused, however she is the witness being put through a painful form of torture to make sure she is telling the truth. The truth is that she was raped by the painting instructor hired by her father. Her father is more interested in getting his painting back than objecting to the torture his daughter goes through. He gets the painting back before the trail is over and drops the rape charges.
We follow Artemisia through all of her ups and downs, her marriage, child, and her extraordinary painting. She was a woman before her time and holds her head high. She ends up supporting herself and her daughter though her painting.
This touching story is written in beautiful prose, like the paintings of Artemisia herself. I felt as if I was there in the 17th century, experiencing Artemisia up's and down's with her.
The only complaint I have is that Vreeland chose to close the book at the end of Artemisia's father's death, rather than give closure to how Artemisia lived out the rest of her life. She however does give show important closure between Artemisia and her father.
I listened to the audio CD version of this book. The narrator, Bermingham Gigi was quite amazing. She has a beautiful voice that enhanced the characters and story, rather than detracting from, as sometimes happens with audio books.
I highly recommend this lovely and engaging story of a strong woman in Italian history.
on March 12, 2004
This book certainly hooks you in early. I couldn't put it down and I knew nothing of the real Artemisia Gentileschi, so I had no other story to compare to. I found this book fulfilling in some places and disappointing in others. I can see with Susan Vreeland's description all the beauty of seventeenth century Italy; Rome, Florence, Naples, Genoa, she paints a vivid portrait of a struggling and talented woman.
While some places I thought came off the pages and touched me, others left me hanging and a little sad. I don't really think she had a rich life just for her wonderful paintings, what about love? She never did have love. Arranged marriage, a womanizing cheater for a husband, befriends a distinguished man and yet nothing more than friendship blossoms. She lives her entire life as a struggling painter working for comissions and taking care of her daughter. I was rooting for Artemisia, I was hoping since life hadn't been so great to her, something was going to turn around in her favor.
It isn't a bad story, it should be read at least once, it has some beautiful lines and some great characters. I liked it, but had Susan Vreeland made the character a little more anxious about love and attaining love, perhaps I would have liked it even more.
on February 15, 2004
Oh, how I wanted to like this novel. But the writing is second-rate, at best. The story is of Artemisia Gentileschi, the great post-Renaissance painter, contemporary of Galileo. She is raped as a young woman by a colleague of her painter father, and tortured to test the "truth" of her accusation. Later, she goes on to become a recognized artist with commissions from the Medicis and other nobles of Italy and England.
The writing is embarrassingly flat and unsurprising. Though occasionally, Vreeland has a fine passage about the art of seeing, most of the telling is pedestrian. After the exciting first chapters, this novel falls flatter than a coat of latex.
The audio tape is a good production, the narration by Gigi Bermingham is wonderful, with the actress able to produce character voices with changes in timbre and tone, effortlessly. Her Italian pronunciation is perfection. Sad that she must be reading second-rate material. I enjoyed the tapes, the book, but I wish the writing had excelled. Vreeland can do better. Wish she had done so here with the rich material at hand.
on July 31, 2003
I have never heard of Artemisia before and now that I have read this book, I am very intrigued by this historical woman artist! This book will captivate you from the first page to the last. It is a keeper as well!
Artemisia stands on trial in Rome after she accuses a man of raping her. It turns out that it was her reputation and life that was ruined ~~ so her father, instead of defending her, married her off to a painter from Florence and sent her home with him. And that is just the beginning of the story.
With flair and careful descriptions, Vreeland writes of a woman struggling to find her calling as an artist, wife, daughter and mother. Throughout Artemisia's life, she is always struggling internally with her father's betrayal and it shows in her painting and relationship with her daughter. It shows in her relationships with men and other people, as well as with her father.
The descriptions Vreeland crafted in this book draws you in ~~ you can't help but look at colors differently now. She does a wonderful job of painting a world of words for the reader ~~ and gives the reader a new appreciation of life and art and love. This is a book that no one should ever ignore ~~ it speaks so vividly to the spirit. And you can relate so well with Artemisia ~~ she is everywoman struggling against the mores of society, trying to carve her own niche in life.
This is a keeper.
on March 5, 2003
The Passion of Artemisia is a rare example of a well-written biographical novel. It tells the story of post-Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschiï¿½s life with a balanced mixture of fact and fiction. The author, Susan Vreeland, reveals this magnificently talented and complex woman with such ease, it is as though she were there with Artemisia as the events of her life unraveled. Set in cities of Italy and England, this story gives the factual sequence of events in her life and the rollercoaster of pain and ecstasy she must have felt throughout her many triumphs and tragedies. Beginning in Rome, the artistï¿½s birthplace and also the site of her infamously horrible rape and degrading trial, the story then continues throughout Italy as Artemisia makes her way into the hearts of Italyï¿½s highest nobility and even the great Galileo Galilei, never letting her crumbling marriage of convenience or societyï¿½s sexual bias discourage her from achieving her dreams. The novel ends in England, where the artist is reunited with her aging father, renowned painter Orazio Gentileschi, and a lasting peace between them may finally be realized after years of bad blood. This is the story of a true heroine, a woman who was not willing to let anybody or anything come between her and her dream. Vreeland uses her extraordinary talents to portray her subject as someone both easily related to and hard to forget. Artemisia truly inspires with her courage and her ability to continually pick herself up after she faces many knock-downs. The Passion of Artemisia is full of touching moments that linger in the readerï¿½s mind. With this novel Susan Vreeland ensures that Artemisia will be remembered just as she was: a passionate artist and intelligent woman.
on February 22, 2003
It was surprising to find, after reading the Passion
of Artemisia, that some online reviewers were
unhappy with the novel. Criticism ranged from "too
simplistic", to "too modern in style and text". Some
felt that Vreeland made Artemisia into too strong of a
character - far bolder and having more of a feminist
spirit than would have been feasible in a
But the very things that garnered complaints are what
I felt were strong points.
Yes, the language was far from archaic, hardly what
one would imagine Galileo and his ilk to utter, yet
period prose would have been too heavy handed, too
much to trudge through. The average reader wants to
enjoy a verbose vocabulary, but does not want to be
burdened with having to reach for a trusty Webster's
when coming across numerous words no longer spoken in
the present day. The language was not so much overly
simple as it was in layman's terms. Yet sophistication
was far from lacking and the sentences managed to
stream together in a visual and lyrical way. We felt,
saw, and breathed as Artemisia, and also visualized
her art through the careful placement of words. Is
that not the objective of the writer?
Perhaps Artemisia was portrayed with every strength of
a modern woman, possessing a reserved out-spokeness.
In reality, she may never have been so bold, but would
a present day reader, used to the current structure of
society comprehend the subtle strands that a
post-Renaissance might take, and the scandal those
simple gestures would cause. Vreeland brought
Artemisia to a level that we could understand...a
struggling artist, a despairing wife, a disappointed
mother. Triumphs and tribulations that cross
generations and make the painter more vivid and
It was this sense of realness that appealed to me the
most. The sense that Artemisia was tangible. The art
the Artemisia was surrounded by, her own and the works
of others, was portrayed in such detail that the
reader could share the experience. From page 64 " I
stood transfixed before Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam
and Eve from Eden. In a bleak, brown setting without
any hint of a garden, Adam covered his bowed face with
his hands. Eve's eyes were wounded hollows nearly
squeezed shut, and her open mouth uttered an anguished
cry that echoed through time and resounded in my
heart. The pathos of their shame moved me so that my
legs were weak. I held onto the stone balustrade.
Between Eve and me, I felt no gulf of centuries".
The Passion of Artemisia may not prove to be a novel
that will gain accolades or top the bestseller lists,
but it tells a poignant story of a dreamer and
visionary, a woman with strength and sensitivity. It
is an impressionable (albeit fictitious) look into the
heart of an artist struggling against the constraints
of her time.
on February 17, 2003
Two stars for giving Artemisia some attention...and a redeeming conclusion. I Enjoyed the girl in hyacinth blue...the story and format. If a book were to be measured by the number of times you need a dictionary I was disappointed that there was no need for one. It kind of reminded me of books I'd take out of the libary in junior high. O but this is about Artemisia...Okay I did have my dictionary at hand and I appreciated that... but the lack of dimension...of depth...made one who I would imagine to have substance...flat. Like a hobbyist painter there was an obvious
lack of creativity with words. My brain bored by the lack of effort needed to grasp significance of what was being said. I.e. no afterthought...no I take that back- I will look into the life of Artemisia with heightened interest. So I need to be appreciative that this book was written to serve as inspiration to search out something with substance. I am sure for folks who are satisfied with a veneer- as opposed to a multi glazed production which reveals layers of thought, understanding complexities ,utilizing genius,expressing true passion,undergoing pain and emotional torment and still functioning, and originality-this piece of fiction is entertaining...but don't look for enlightenment as to what it could have been to be a women in the 1600's who was humiliated yet not crushed. Rather she used her experience as a means to depict the nuance of emotion. If life were as simple as this book
there would be no need for writers to share the journey by echoing our voice.
on February 4, 2003
"The Passion of Artemisia" follows the earlier success of Susan Vreeland's masterful "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," an artistic novel that followed the generations of Dutch owners of a lost Vermeer masterpiece. In "Artemisia" Vreeland captures the nuances of Baroque Italy, along with the challenges of being a fiercely independent, talented female painter in a man's world.
Artemisia Gentileschi lived in Baroque Italy (1593-1652). The daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, she studied with him and with the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. In 1616 she joined the Academy of Design in Florence and began to develop a powerful style of her own. She was one of the greatest of Caravaggio's followers and the most violent, arguably as a result of her rape by Tassi and the trial at which she was forced under torture to give evidence against him. She favored such subjects as Judith beheading Holofernes and other images of heroic women. She worked in Rome and Naples, and spent three years with her father in London (1638-41). The first woman artist to attain an international reputation, she is admired today as the earliest to show a feminist consciousness in her work.
Vreeland's Artemisia struggles to come to grips with her traumatic rape and subsequent Inquisition trial, an early event that recurs throughout the novel, as well as balancing being a wife, mother, and painter. Along the way she suffers heartbreak, scorn, and self-doubt in her quest to become the first female painter admitted to the Academy of Design in Florence. The novel is ripe with detail, and is better enjoyed if you view the actual paintings (hint: search online, there are many excellent photos of the works mentioned in the novel) while you read. A thoughtful novel that will engage your senses and your heart.
on January 17, 2003
"Could I actually be fully his? Every day? Every hour? Him the only focus of my life? A painter or a wife. A wife or a painter. Which did I really want to be?"
Susan Vreeland's new novel, The Passion of Artemisia chronicles the extraordinary life of Artemesia Gentileschi. It is a story of a painter who transformed Renaissance Italy with the beauty of her work. It is the story of a woman who had to make a choice. Fortunately for us Artemisia chose to be a painter -- the first woman to make a significant contribution to art history.
At age eighteen, Artemisia Gentileschi finds herself humiliated in papal court for publicly accusing the man who raped her -- Agostino Tassi, her painting teacher. When even her father does not stand up for her, she knows she cannot stay in Rome and begs to have a marriage arranged for her. Her new husband, artist named Pietro Stiatessi, takes her to his native Florence, where he talent for painting blossoms and she becomes the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell'Arte. But marriage clashes with Artemisia's newfound fame as a painter, and she beings a lifelong search to reconcile painting and motherhood, passion and genius.
The Passion of Artemisia is the story of Gentileschi's struggle to find love, forgiveness, and wholeness through her art. It is at once a dramatic tale of love and a moving father-daughter story; it is the portrait of an astonishing woman that will captivate lovers of Gentileschi's paintings and anyone interested in the life of a woman who ignored the conventions of her day and dared to follow her heart.
One can only wonder if we could have chosen as Gentileschi did. (Do we even know what our passion is?) Or would we decide not to choose, but instead try to do both -- to devote ourselves to our families and our passion as so many women of today seem to be doing? Each of us owns the answer. Artemisia Gentileschi's poignant story, as related in The Passion of Artemisia, can help us to find that answer -- if we chose to first as the question.
on January 2, 2003
10 to 1 you've never even heard of Artemesia Gentileschi (I hadn't), the female Renaissance painter. Regrettably, after reading Susan Vreeland's novel/biography, you're probably not going to be any more knowledgable.
The best historical novels give you a good grasp of both the differences and the similarities of the situations people faced back then. Artemesia's world, however, is more like a Renn faire than the actual Renaissance - a thin veneer of quaint history, overshadowed by an effort to make Artemesia a thoroughly modern, feminist heroine. Unfortunately, this effectively trivializes the struggles she faces as a female artist in a decidedly misogynistic time. After a promising first chapter, in which she is tortured and villainized at the trial of her former teacher and rapist, the omnipresent Church seems to disappear. At one point, Artemesia even blithely asserts that she sees the Bible merely as a source of good stories, a view that I would think any reasonably sensible Renaissance woman, much less one who's already found herself on the wrong side of the Inquisition, would be a little more discreet about disclosing. Her truly monumental achievement, becoming the first woman admitted to the Accademia dell'Arte in Florence, is likewise glossed over and eventually forgotten, as she leaves her husband and moves to Genoa with her young daughter. Meanwhile, the few tantalizing hints that are dropped never materialize into anything, like the prospect of an affair with Galileo himself.
In fact, Vreeland's story is more about a young working mother obsessed with her career than about art, the Italian Renaissance, or female artists. In trying to make Artemesia a character modern readers can empathize with, she's turned a woman who was surely fascinating and complex into someone whose story we've all heard before.