Artemisia: The Movie
Released May 8, 1998. Directed by Agnes Merlet.
Starring: Valentina Cervi, Miki Manojlovic Michael Serrault
Written by Agnes Merlet and Patrick Amos.
Produced by Patrice Haddad. Distributed by Miramax.
If you did not know the true story of Artemisia, you might be impressed by this
well-acted, well-directed portrayal of an independent, erotic and determined female
Renaissance painter who falls in love with her art teacher, and ardently defends him when
he is accused of rape. But once you learn about the real Artemisia, you may begin to
question the ethics of Merlet, the director- screenwriter. Understandably, both movie
reviewers and feminists have been critical of the film's distortion of historical truth.
Many historical films are not true to history,
and viewers accept the fictionalizations.
But because here the fictionalizing is a whitewashing of rape, it is more difficult to
accept. Despite its success and tasteful eroticism, Artemisia the movie proves to be
still another the violation of the feminine. Artemisia was raped originally by her male
art teacher, Tassi. Unfortunately, now she has been raped again in this film - by its
twentieth century female director.
What are the historical inaccuracies?
(WARNING: Spoilers ahead)
Artemisia did not paint nude men, nor show off her drawings of nude males in
order to entice Tassi to teach her. Nor is it likely that she was obsessed with male
genitals, as the movie appears to indicate. Although we admittedly do not know the whole
truth of the matter, historical documents and the rape trial transcripts do not lead us to
believe that she was as seductive with Tassi as the film portrayed, or inclined to
continually return for "more."
The real Tassi was not handsome, nor was he a devoted lover; he was a philanderer who had
been jailed for sexual crimes, and was known to have committed incest and raped his
sister-in-law; many also believed at the time (although it was not proven) that he had
murdered his wife.
During the trial, Artemisia did not repeatedly declare her love for Tassi or deny that she
had been raped; she quite vigorously described the rape. When she was tortured, she did
not insistently defend his innocence; rather she asserted his guilt. The real Tassi did
not defend Artemisia; instead he portrayed her, her mother and sisters as whores. He did
not admit his guilt in order to stop her from being tortured; he continued to defend his
own innocence and condemn her.
In reality, Tassi was a minor painter who briefly taught Artemisia perspective, and not
her equal or long-term mentor. The real Artemisia was the most talented and successful
woman artist of the Renaissance and baroque era, known especially for her famous Judith
Slaying Holofernes paintings. In the film, this painting and alleged drawings
of male nudes are presented at the trial as evidence of her degenerate nature, but no
explanation is given of how or why she chose such a violent subject. In reality, however,
Artemisia completed her first Judith painting the year after the trial - most likely
choosing such a violent theme in order to express her own anger at the series of
injustices that she had experienced.
Excerpts from the Reviews:
Why do movies always make artists out to be overwrought, oversexed creatures who fling
themselves about in a constant state of exaggerated creativity? And why, in this one, are
the few documented facts ignored and the artist's life boiled down to a syrupy,
sensational fantasy? Truth is a hundred times more interesting than the fiction that
French director Agnes Merlet concocts from the life of 17th-century Italian painter
Artemisia Gentileschi. Basically all Artemisia provides the film
is a blank canvas on
which to paint a melodramatic romance, with plenty of sex, nude models, and exotic
from Lusty for Life by Sheila Farr
Artemisia is as much about art as about sex, and it contains a lot of information about
techniques, including the revolutionary idea of moving the easel outside and painting from
nature. It lacks, however, detailed scenes showing drawings in the act of being created
.... And it doesn't show a lot of Artemisia's work. What it does show is the gift of
Valentina Cervi, who is another of those modern European actresses... whose intelligence,
despite everything else, is the most attractive thing about her.
Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun-Times
Every detail of the historical story has been inverted to produce a romanticized narrative
of "true love" between Artemisia and Agostino Tassi, her rapist.... Those who
study women's history, who know how fragile the truth about women in history always is,
and how vulnerable it is to conflation with female stereotypes, have been and will be
outraged by the latest injustice to Artemisia Gentileschi, who has repeatedly been
subjected to sexualized explanations of her life and career success.
Contributed by Helen Langato to Art Historian's Guide to Movies
So why change the plot? To get a love story into the movie. A film such as
"Artemisia" uses a nearly 400-year-old feminist archetype as a de facto cover-up
of male villainy.
from Colorful Unhistory by John Anderson, Newsday
Above images captured from video trailer
by Tika Yupanqui
In the film, Artemisia Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi are presented as
voluntary and passionate lovers.... Artemisia testifies even when tortured that Tassi did
not rape her. Tassi is presented first as a reluctant lover, then as a flawed but noble
character who protects Artemisia by accepting the false charge of rape.
THE MYTHS: The idea that a woman artist is the creation of a male mentor has been a
persistent myth in the history of art... So has the romanticization of violent rape, as in
the rape scenes in this film, and the idea that women wish to be raped or fall in love
with their rapists. .... The film Artemisia taps into pervasive stereotypes about women
artists in general, and it perpetuates the stigma of a primarily sexualized identity that
has followed Artemisia Gentileschi from her own lifetime down to the present.
At its most worthwhile, Artemisia examines the tools and techniques of
17th-century art.... Unfortunately, the subtle power of Gentileschi's painting is missing.
Although the film opens with an image of secrecy--Artemisia taking a candle into her bed
to view the hidden contours of her own body--it ...makes the heroine a slave to the
heart.... Merlet's Artemisia is a subject fit for a Harlequin romance.
by Mary Garrard and Gloria Steinem
from the web site Artemisia Gentileschi in the Movies by Adrienne DeAngelis http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~acd/Artemisia.html
With some high-profile help from Gloria Steinem, art historian Mary Garrard has organized
a campaign to inform audiences for "Artemisia" that what they're seeing is not,
as was promised in early advertisements, "The Untold True Story of an Extraordinary
In the transcript (of Gentileschi's testimony at the trial, based on records preserved in
an archive in Rome), Gentileschi describes the rape in graphic detail and states
that Tassi continued to have sex with her... with the understanding that he would protect
her honor by eventually wedding her..... In the movie, by contrast, she's a willing
partner in lust. During the trial, she says only that "I love him"; "he
loves me"; "he gives me pleasure."
In the movie, Gentileschi refuses to testify that she was raped, even under torture, a
sacrifice that prompts a devastated Tassi to make a sham confession..... Just as
problematic, says Garrard, is the way the movie ascribes Gentileschi's creative maturation
to the influence of, of all people, the man whom history records as her assailant.... At
the same time, many inconvenient details -- most glaringly, Tassi's relentless campaign
during the trial to smear Gentileschi as a slut -- didn't make it into the movie....
from Alyssa Katz, SALON, May 15, 1998