Artemisia Gentileschi, born in 1598, the daughter of an esteemed painter, taught art in Naples and painted the great women of Roman and biblical history: Esther, Judith, Cleopatra, Bathsheba. She also painted the rich and royal, but her wealthy male patrons wanted admiration while her women models wanted disguise. This woman, who had been violated in her youth and reviled as a rap victim in a public trial before going off to heretical England, who was rejected by her father and later abandoned by her husband and misunderstood by her daughter, who could not read or write but who could only paint—this woman was one of the first modern times to uphold through her work and deeds the right of women to pursue careers compatible with their talents and on an equal footing with men. Artemisia lives again in Anna Banti's novel, which was first published to critical acclaim in Italy in 1947 (Banti was the pseudonym of Lucia Lopresti, 1895-1978). Recognized as a consummate stylist, she was one of the most successful women writers in Italy before the resurgence of the feminist movement. Although Artemisia describes life in seventeenth-century Rome, Florence, and Naples, the time setting of the novel is, in a deeper sense, a historical, merging as it does the experience of a woman dead for three centuries with the terrors of World War II experienced by the author. Shirley D'Ardia Caracciolo's English translation of Banti's novel skillfully renders its complexity and poignancy as a study of courage.
- Anna Banti