National gets rare Gentileschi self-portrait

A self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi, who broke the glass ceiling for female artists in 17thcentury Florence, has been acquired by the National Gallery for £3.6m.

Gentileschi (1593–c.1654) was a follower of Caravaggio, whom she probably knew through her painter father Orazio, and was the first woman to become a member of the powerful guild, Accademia del Disegno, in Florence where she lived from 1612 to 1620. She was by far the best known female painter with clients including the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Charles I of England, and Philip IV of Spain.

The recently discovered oil painting shows Artemisia in her twenties as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and is thought to have been painted between 1615 and 1617.

“The acquisition of this great painting by Artemisia Gentileschi realises a long-held dream of increasing the National Gallery's collection of paintings by important women artists” said Hannah Rothschild, chair of the National Gallery’s trustees. “Gentileschi was a pioneer, a master storyteller, and one of the most progressive and expressive painters of the period. One of a handful of women who was able to shatter the confines of her time, she overcame extreme personal difficulties to succeed in the art of painting. This picture will help us transform how we collect, exhibit and tell the story of women artists throughout history.”

The gallery was able to buy it with the help of the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, the Art Fund, Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, and Hannah Rothschild herself along with other anonymous donors.

Artemisia’s challenges were both professional and personal. She was raped by a painter, Agostino Tassi, and was subjected to physical torture during the trial that ensued, but she is now recognised as one of the most talented painters of her generation. More than 60 paintings are attributed to her, many of them featuring strong female heroines, and many of them featuring herself as the model, but only two other easel paintings by her are known in this country, in the Burghley House Collection at Stamford and in the Royal Collection.

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