Excerpt from The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Passion of Artemisia

by Susan Vreeland

The Passion of Artemisia
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2002, 320 pages
    Jan 2003, 368 pages

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My breath. I couldn't get my breath.

"Enough. Adjourned until tomorrow." He waved his hand in disgust and triumph. "All parties to be present."

The sibille was loosened and removed.

Rage hissed through me. My hands trembled, and shook blood onto my skirt. Agostino lurched toward me, but the guards grabbed him to take him away. I wanted to wait until the crowd left, but a guard pushed me out with everyone else and I had to walk through hoots and jeers with bleeding hands. In the glare of the street, I felt something thrown at my back. I didn't turn around to see what it was. Beside me, Papa offered me his handkerchief.

"I'd rather bleed."

"Artemisia, take this."

"You didn't tell me what the sibille could do." I passed him, and walked faster than he could. At home I shoved my clothing cassapanca behind my chamber door with my knees, and flung myself onto my bed and cried.

How could he have let this happen? How could he be so selfish? My dearest papa. All those happy times on the Via Appia-picnics with Mama listening for doves and Papa gathering sage to scrub into the floor. Papa wrapping his feet and mine in scrubbing cloths soaked in sage water, sliding to the rhythm of his love songs, his voice warbling on the high notes, waving his arms like a cypress in the wind until I laughed. That was my papa.


And all his stories about great paintings-sitting on my bed, letting me snuggle in his arms, slipping me some candied orange rind. Wonderful stories. Rebekah at the well at Nahor, her skin so clear that when she raised her chin to drink, you could see the water flowing down her throat. Cleopatra floating the Nile on a barge piled with fruit and flowers. Dana‘ and the golden shower, Bathsheba, Judith, sibyls, muses, saints-he made them all real. He had made me want to be a painter, let me trace the drawings in his great leather-bound Iconologia, taught me how to hold a brush when I was five, how to grind pigments and mix colors when I was ten. He gave me my very own grinding muller and marble slab. He gave me my life.

What if I could never paint again with these hands? What was the use in living then? The dagger was still under the bed. I didn't have to live if the world became too cruel.

But there was my Judith to paint--if I could. More than ever I wanted to do that now.

Papa rattled the door. "Artemisia, let me in."

"I don't want to talk to you. You knew what the sibille could do."

"I didn't think--"

"S", eh. You didn't think."

He wedged the door open and pushed the trunk out of the way. He brought in a bowl of water and cloths to clean my hands. I rolled away from him.

"Artemisia, permit me."

"If Mama were still here she wouldn't have let you allow it."

"I didn't realize. I--"

"She wouldn't have wanted it public, like I didn't."

"In time, Artemisia, it won't matter."

"When a woman's name is all she has, it matters."

From The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, Copyright © January 2002, Viking Press, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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