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 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 March 18, 2002
In "The Passion of Artemisia," Susan Vreeland does a great job providing her readers with details of seventeenth century Italy. Her descriptions of food (dates, almonds, pear wedges, bread, olive oil, saffron, antipasti), clothes (gowns, quilted doublets, embroidered bodices), and Italy itself (Rome, Florence, Genoa, and Naples) are wonderful. I could not get enough of the twisted alleyways, the villas, the references to historical characters (Galileo, Cosimo de' Medici II), and of course the paintings. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the story itself. Told in the first person narrative, Artemisia is a somewhat flat character -- Susan Vreeland is unable to convey the passion and courage that drove Artemisia to pursue her dream of becoming a famous painter.
"Girl In Hyacinth Blue" sparkled. It was clever, intelligent -- a little gem. "The Passion of Artemisia," on the other hand, is entertaining (the Italian words scattered throughout the novel were just plain fun: bene, brava, tesoro, poverina, la dolce vita). It depicts details from seventeenth century Italy marvelously (the reason for the three star rating), but ultimately, it does not deliver the dramatic tale about a woman who ignored the social mores of her time.
If you enjoy fiction published about art, history, and the lives of women consider reading: "Tulip Fever" by Deborah Moggach and "Girl With A Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier.
on January 31, 2002
I really wanted to love this book. All the hype, plus my love of reading about art and artists, convinced me that this book would be outstanding.
I am sorry to say that I did not find it so. If it had not been for the descriptions of the paintings and wanting to find out where Artemisia's life went, I would never have finished the book.
The book was so poorly edited and awkwardly written. There were many, many errors and contradictions. The historical facts were presented in the most ungainly and awkward way. (I am talking about little tidbits ---what was going on at the time). It was as if the author had stuck post-it notes on the pages with facts
written on them. These were not woven into the fabric of the novel in any way.
One poorly written passage sticks in my mind -- on page 221 Vreeland writes, about Artemisia's daughter Palmira: "Palmira watched the soup for me hanging in a pot over the fire." Poor child, hanging over the fire in a pot! This kind of writing is inexcusable, in my opinion.
My suggestion would be that some serious editing be done before the next edition or the paperback are printed.
on October 3, 2002
Similar to Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, Susan Vreeland creates character based on what she interprets in Artemisia Gentileschi's artwork. Vreeland is greatly aided by her real-life heroine's well-documented rape, and therefore it's easy to make the connection that her art would frequently be disquieting and violent. Vreeland intelligently concludes that this violence (in the depiction of blood, severed heads, and daggers) may be the reason that Artemisia's own daughter was repelled by her mother's art as a child. Here, Vreeland should be credited with the "invenzione" she bestows on her subject.
Artists frequently reflect that art is a lonely lifestyle, and Vreeland portrays the conflict between living for one's art and living for love. Artemisia fairly often comes across as self-absorbed, and then is later stunned when her husband or daughter rejects her in some form. It is probably a realistic if not wholly sympathetic portrayal. Occasionally, Vreeland interferes with her character by putting modern thoughts into her seventeenth century characters' heads. ("Let them wonder about that for centuries," Artemisia muses) Certainly a worthwhile read for art lovers, and also, I feel, a book that can generate discussion of the conflict of love and loyalty versus pursuit of one's art and independence. Excellent for book groups.
on November 8, 2002
Simply stated, Vreeland has delivered a novel full of passion: for life, for love, for art, and for betrayal. The prose is lyrical, provocative, and moving. It opens with young Artemisia testifying in papal court during Italy's Renaissance after being raped by her father's artist friend. The betrayal of her father's friend pales in comparison with the plot set against her by her own father. To escape Rome and her sullied reputation, Artemisia enters a loveless arranged marriage with a fellow painter and moves to Florence, Italy's art center. We follow Artemisia through her tentative marriage, her celebrated birth of a child, and the success of a female artist unparalleled during her time. All of her success cannot make up for her attack, her father's ruination of her reputation, her husband's jealously, and her child's imperiousness.
I stayed up all night to finish the book, as I could not put it down. It sweeps you into this woman's life and passion for her art, through which she learns the powers of rage and forgiveness. Highly recommended.
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 August 15, 2002
I had never heard of Artemisia Gentileschi until I opened this book. I realize that it is a fictitious account of her life, but it made for an interesting read.
Set in the 17th century, the story opens with Artemisia having been raped by her father's assistant, Agostino Tassi. Her father has accused him of this rape and sets into motion a trial that will continue to haunt Artemisia for the rest of her days. The rapist is released and Artemisia, her reputation ruined, is forced into an arranged marriage.
She begins to paint her collection, most notably her "Judith" collection. Her art becomes famous with the most renowned people of her day. She portrays the women in her paintings as strong and independent, retribution being the key. I found Vreeland's account of how the paintings came about and why to be extremely interesting. Artemisia soon becomes the first woman to be accepted into the Academy of Sciences in Florence and this causes a rift in her marriage.
The people along the way are also wonderful characters brought to life, especially Graziela who is wise beyond her years and helps to put things into perspective for Artemisia. Her passion for painting brought her the utmost joy and pain. A lesson not lost on Artemisia.
I was so fascinated by Artemisia's story that I looked on the internet for her paintings and was not disappointed. I discovered a few inconsistencies in the story and the real life of this painter, but overall I think the book is worth the read.
Another book similar in theme to this one is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
on February 28, 2002
I bought this book believing I would really, really love it. I love art, I love Italy, so...what was there not to love?
The Passion of Artemisia is the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, born in Rome in 1593. After the death of her mother, Artemisia was raised by her father, who was himself, an artist. Vreeland tells us that the book is, for the most part, historically accurate, and I have no reason to doubt her veracity. However, the historical portions, the descriptions of the art and the cities, etc., make up the only interesting parts of the book.
When the book opens, Artemisia is a girl of eighteen who stands at the center of a rape trial. Artemisia wants to see justice done, but her father has other ideas and other things on his mind and Artemisia is left ruined and unmarriageable.
Although unmarriageable, Artemisia does wed and only about a year later as well. The union is a relatively happy and peaceful one and her husband, also a painter, takes her to his native Florence where they both pursue their vocation until Artemisia gives birth to a daughter.
When Artemisia clearly proves to be the superior painter, her harmonious relationship she has enjoyed with her husband ends and she eventually leaves him, taking their daughter with her. She travels first to Genoa, then to Rome, then to Naples. She is determined to support both herself and her child as a painter, no matter how much society is against the idea.
Artemisia Gentileschi was a fascinating woman. She was the first woman admitted to the Florentine Academy, she was a woman who lived apart from her husband at a time when living apart from one's husband was virtually unknown. She moved in the same social circles as the Medicis and the other families of the Italian nobility. Artemisia was, as the title of the book, suggests, a passionate woman. So, what is the problem here?
The problem with this book is twofold. First, the character of Artemisia, as painted by Vreeland, is both dull and flat. Instead of giving us a fascinating character, Vreeland seems to be using Artemisia as a vehicle through which to give us her views of the issues of Renaissance Italy. Artemisia "talks" at length about science, art, religion and politics, but her views are not those of a passionate artist, they are the views of someone totally detached from the day-to-day life of the times. Unfortunately, we learn nothing about Artemisia's passion for her art, for her husband, for her child, for her homeland. This is the story of a cold and cerebral woman, not a passionate, life-affirming one. It is only when Artemisia is analyzing the painting of others that she becomes in the least bit interesting as a human being.
The second thing wrong with this book is the poor quality of the writing. The narrative prose is just awful. It is a mystery to me why Vreeland wrote this way and even more of a mystery as to why her editor (or even a first reader) didn't catch (and fix) the problems. Wherever the fault lies, there is simply no excuse to foist bad narrative prose on the book-buying public. It is really unforgiveable.
Artemisia Gentileschi was a fascinating and passionate woman. She certainly deserved better than this.
on March 20, 2002
This book was interesting in that it introduced me to a prominent, yet forgotten, woman Renaissance painter. The fact that Artemisia actually existed gave the story a little more character then it would have had otherwise. Because otherwise, it is dull, dry and boring. Yes, it was a quick read. That may be because the author includes NO details. Having just read Oscar and Lucinda (a book which I also did not love) I feel that I have fully covered the detail spectrum. Oscar and Lucinda provided too much, this book provides too little. The characters in this story are so one dimensional, the relationships between the characters are not developed at all- especially the relationship between Artemisia and her husband. Artemisia's daughter struck me as a spoiled brat. I also found it interesting that in reality Artemisia's daughter became a painter, since they place so much emphasis on the fact that she did not take to painting. I could have read a short online biography of Artemisia, saved myself about 300 pages, and learn more about her "passion" then I did from this book.