Newly discovered artwork by feminist icon paints a different picture

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She‘s famous for painting a woman hacking off a man‘s head and for picturing a woman fending off unwanted sexual advances from leering old men. Such imagery, executed five centuries ago by Artemesia Gentileschi, made her a feminist hero beginning in 1971 when art historian Linda Nochlin first called her that. But a newly discovered work by this artist, now on the auction block at New York – Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene – blows the artist‘s reputation as a supposed man-hater.

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(More about that in a moment).

What‘s in a name?

Now that the painting has been identified as a Gentileschi, it is expected to bring ten times its sale price of 2014 when no one knew it was hers.

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Artnet reports that instead of $60,000, the estimated value has leaped to $600,000. But even without that data or expert opinion, you can‘t miss the signs of her handiwork given the theatrical lighting cast on Sebastian, his twisting torso together with the gesturing arms and hands. You have only to recall the drama in her work, and the Elders, to recognize the same staged expressiveness to tell you-you‘re looking at a Gentileschi.

Art versus the artist

And who can forget the operatic decapitation scene in Judith and Holofernes? But wait. Even given the same ceremonious air in the newly discovered Gentileschi, one may wonder why it‘s being lumped in with her better-known works that feminists have taken to heart. Why did Edoardo Roberti, Sotheby‘s senior specialist in Old Master paintings, tell Artnet that the theme of Gentileschi‘s pictures, “is nearly always based around female empowerment.” In case you think he wasn‘t talking about the Saint Sebastian picture, he went on to say how much the painting focused more on the two women in the scene than on Sebastian.

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No, it doesn‘t.

Seeing is believing

You have only to glance at the painting to see that the spotlight is on Sebastian. The women are in the background, in the shadows. The painting, then, is not about a female bringing off a great feat as much as it is about a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs. It‘s as if no one at the auction house actually looked at the painting, their view clouded by the feminist reputation of the artist. Cas in pointlessness: When Sotheby‘s presented the work in a preview showing last week in a group of 21 pictures by women, it was tagged “The Female Triumphant.” Ministering to a fellow being suffering from multiple arrow wounds is not a female triumph. It‘s a decent thing for anyone to do.

Magnifying a mistake

Yet, as if to reinforce the notion that Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene is vintage feminist art, Sarah Cascone at Artnet, wrote, “Of course, today, Gentileschi‘s fierce, proto-feminist canvases are very much in line with the taste of the day. As a new addition to her oeuvre, Saint Sebastian seems likely to attract considerable attention.” If it‘s for that reason, I hope not.

This news article has been verified through:

  • https://news.artnet/market/sothebys-rediscovered-late-artemisia-gentileschi-masterpiece-old-master-sale-1451794
  • https://www.forbes/sites/natashagural/2019/01/13/empowered-by-victoria-beckham-old-master-women-painting-astonishes-with-world-record-at-sothebys/#84d8f4b3fef9