The Intesa Sanpaolo Bank foundation’s Gallerie d’Italia sheds light on Artemisia Gentileschi’s little-known entourage in Naples.
The Triumph of Galatea, oil on canvas, 152 x 205 cm/59.84 x 80.70 in. (detail), loaned by the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., which attributes the work to Bernardo Cavallino. In Naples, it is ascribed to Artemisia.
© National Gallery of Art, Washington
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) rose to prominence at a time when few women had opportunities to pursue artistic training or careers. “Paradoxically,” says Antonio Denunzio, who organized the Galleria d’Italia-Napoli exhibition, “her Neapolitan period, the longest of her life, is also the most obscure.” Except for a brief period at the court of England, where she joined her father, the brilliant Orazio, Artemisia lived in Naples from 1630 until her death in 1654. The show steers clear of anachronistic simplifications casting her as a proto-feminist. On the other hand, it tackles a legacy all the harder to define because Artemisia headed a large studio that employed many collaborators. Exhibition curator Giuseppe Porzio speaks of “Artemisia & Co.”, a brand that turned out large formats with a “protean physiognomy”. Half of the show’s approximately 50 paintings, which Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery in London, helped to assemble, are by artists from Artemisia’s circle. While the exhibition quickly skims over her relationship with Jusepe de Ribera, it has much to say about two of her companions, Giovanna Garzoni and Diana (Annella) di Rosa, and includes monumental paintings by several contributors. Some of the names are barely known, while others are more familiar, such as Bernardo Cavallino, Onofrio Palumba, and Domenico Gargiulo, called Micco Spadaro, who probably contributed to David and Bathsheba (Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio).
The curators decided to attribute four works to which several artists contributed to Artemisia, starting with The Triumph of Galatea at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., where it is hung as a Cavallino. While Mr. Porzo acknowledges that Cavallino painted the background and certain sections, perhaps aided by an assistant, he considers Artemisia the creator of the whole, agreeing with the author of the catalogue raisonné, Raymond Ward Bissell (1936–2019). In some cases, the intervention of three or even four painters can be discerned. Viviano Codazzi drew the architecture and Spadaro the landscape in the Safra Collection’s recently restored Susanna and the Elders, which just fetched $2.1 M at Sotheby’s New York. It has also been suggested that the two lustful old men are by Cavallino, with Artemisia reserving the sensual central figure for herself. The debate is still on. Many hypotheses swirl around the riotous Triumph of David (Sarasota, Florida), to which Palumba and Spadaro probably contributed. The artist’s ode to the face, virtuoso treatment of nuances, colors highlighted by embroidery and jewelry and keen eye for detail can be found in her figures.
The show includes Bathsheba from the Palazzo Pitti, Susanna from Bologna, a beautiful early self-portrait as Saint Catherine recently acquired by the National Gallery in London, a work on the same subject from Stockholm and two paintings of Judith from Oslo and Naples that were made as the artist was stepping out of Caravaggio’s shadow. The impressive Saint Januarius in the Amphitheater from Pozzuoli Cathedral was restored for the occasion. Art historians pored over archival materials to prepare the exhibition, and their articles in the catalog (unfortunately without an index) shed light on Artimesia’s turbulent family life. The artist’s financial records attest to a difficult end: her studio went bankrupt after she returned from London and her furniture was sold at auction.