Summary and book reviews of The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

The Passion of Artemisia

by Susan Vreeland

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

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Book Summary

An astonishing portrait of a 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.

In her luminous debut, Susan Vreeland told the story of a Vermeer painting that transformed the lives of many owners with its beauty. Now, in her stunning new novel, she tells the story of a painter who transformed Renaissance Italy with the beauty of her work. The Passion of Artemisia chronicles the extraordinary life of Artemisia Gentileschi, 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, an artist named Pietro Stiatessi, takes her to his native Florence, where her talent for painting blossoms and she becomes the first woman elected to the Accademia dell'Arte. But marriage clashes with Artemisia's newfound fame as a painter, and she begins a lifelong search to reconcile painting and motherhood, passion and genius.

Set against the glorious backdrops of Rome, Florence, and Genoa, people with historical characters such as Cosimo de'Medici and Galileo and filled with details of the life of a Renaissance painter, The Passion of Artemisia is the story of Gentileschi's struggle to find love, forgiveness, and wholeness through her art. 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.

Sibille

My father walked beside me to give me courage, his palm touching gently the back laces of my bodice. In the low-angled glare already baking the paving stones of the piazza and the top of my head, the still shadow of the Inquisitor's noose hanging above the Tor di Nona, the papal court, stretched grotesquely down the wall, its shape the outline of a tear.

"A brief unpleasantness, Artemisia," my father said, looking straight ahead. "Just a little squeezing."

He meant the sibille.

If, while my hands were bound, I gave again the same testimony as I had the previous weeks, they would know it was the truth and the trial would be over. Not my trial. I kept telling myself that: I was not on trial. Agostino Tassi was on trial.



The words of the indictment my father had sent to Pope Paul V rang in my ears: "Agostino Tassi deflowered my daughter Artemisia and did carnal actions by force many times, acts that brought grave and enormous damage to me, Orazio ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Sometimes, it's too easy to assume that in centuries past, women were victims of gender prejudice and limitations. What negative events in Artemisia's experience were caused by her own thinking and actions? What better decisions could she have made? What advantages did Artemisia have as a woman?

  2. Orazio is seen by Artemisia as the cause of her misfortunes. To what degree is this a fair assessment? How did the attitudes and strictures of the time influence him? Limit his alternatives? Blind him?

  3. When Sister Graziela gives Artemisia the pearl earring, she also gives her some advice. How did she follow and not follow this advice? When it's her turn to give advice to Palmira, she reduces it to one line. Why did she make that ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

Vreeland's remarkable ability...makes this novel an accomplished work of art.

Book Magazine - Susan Tekulve

Like Gentileschi's important works, The Passion of Artemisia provides an imaginative and respectful point of view to a compelling woman's story.

Kirkus Reviews

After her brilliant Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999), Vreeland shows a deep knowledge of art once more but also veers toward message and melodrama.

Publishers Weekly

Forthright and imaginative, Vreeland's deft recreation ably showcases art and life.... Fans of Girl in Hyacinth Blue will be pleased with The Passion of Artemisia, which reprises many of the themes of its predecessor.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

The Passion of Artemisia offers a vivid portrait of a complex female artist who doggedly pursues her passion despite seemingly overwhelming obstacles. This accomplished novel should appeal particularly to those who enjoyed the author's previous book.

Library Journal

Vreeland triumphed with Girl in Hyacinth Blue, last year's other best seller featuring Vermeer (along with Tracy Chevalier's Girl With A Pearl Earring, of course). Vreeland revisits the art world with this fictionalized account of Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman to get elected to the Accademia dell'Arte.

Reader Reviews

Joy Stout

Our local General Federation of Women's Clubs read this book and discussed it. The book was an engaging, graphic account of Artemisia. It gave the reader a deep sense of how it was to be a woman in the 1600's and how extraordinary this woman was. ...   Read More

Lynn Foggle

Perhaps because I am an artist I chose to recommend this book to our book club. Since no one else had any objection it was agreed upon and subsequently, each woman has called to thank me for a wonderful read.... and we haven't had our "book talk...   Read More

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