|The Trial and Its Background
Little is known about the circumstances under which Agostino Tassi was charged for raping Artemisia Gentileschi, but scholars believe that her father heard rumors and confronted them both. Both Cosimo Quorli (who had tried but failed to rape Artemisia, who had stolen one of her paintings, and who had helped Agostino plan visits to her house when her father was absent) were charged. The trial lasted for seven months in 1612, and received considerable publicity.
The transcripts of the trial, included in Mary Garrard's Artemisia Gentileschi, reveal that:
a) Tuzia, supposedly an older friend of Artemisia who lived in the same house as the Gentileschi's, betrayed Artemisia by letting Agostino in to Artemisia's house through her apartment.
b) Agostino was a convicted rapist, who had previously served time in jail, and had been known to have raped both his sister-in-law and his previous wife. His wife was missing, presumed dead, and everyone believed that he had hired bandits to kill her. Artemisia did not know that he was married until the middle of the trial.
c) Agostino was obsessed with Artemisia, had prevented her from marrying Modenese, whom her father had arranged for her to marry, had spied on her and hired men to watch her around the clock, and had been known to have many jealous rages in regard to her proximity to other men. He also had bragged to many that he had deflowered her.
d) Since the first sexual encounter, Agostino had been continually promising Artemisia that he would marry her, and continually postponing the marriage, but using his promise as a means of convincing her to continue sexual relations with him.
During the trial, Artemisia was tortured with the sibille, thumbscrews, involving cords of rope tied around her hands and pulled tightly, in order to "prove" that she was telling the truth. During the torture, which of course seriously injured her hands, she was repeatedly asked whether or not Tassi had raped her, and she continually responded, "it is true, it is true."
Artemisia testified that on the pretext of looking at a painting near the bedroom, Agostino pushed her into the bedroom, threw her on the bed, covered her mouth so that she could not shout, and forcibly entered her. Resisting, she scratched his face and even threw a knife at him, slightly wounding him in the chest, but was not able to stop him. Afterwards, surprised that she was a virgin, he promised to marry her. "What I was doing with him, I did only so that, as he had dishonored me, he would marry me," she said in defense of the continuing sexual relationship which Agostino demanded.
Artemisia also testified that she had never been alone with any men outside her family except for Tassi, and said, "I have never had any sexual relations with any other person besides the said Agostino." After she learned he was married, she spoke directly to him, "I was hoping to have you as a husband, but now I don't because I know that you have a wife." Whether she was hoping to marry him only to reclaim her sullied honor or because she eventually fell in love with him is unclear.
Agostino Tassi's testimony was so blatantly false and contradictory that the judge had to stop on several occasions to ask him to stop lying. First, Agostino stated, "Never have I had carnal relations nor tried to have it with the said Artemisia... I've never been alone in Artemisia's house with her." He then claimed that he visited and kept watch over her house in order to safeguard her honor.
Over a seven months time period, Agostino claimed that Artemisia (who could not write) wrote erotic letters to many men, slept repeatedly with five different men (Pasquino, Modenese, Stiatressi et al.), and had had incest with her father who also sold her once for a loaf of bread. He referred to her, as well as her dead mother, aunts and sisters as whores who catered to a continual stream of men in the Gentileschi house. Agostino also said that he did not stop Modenese from marrying her, but that he had refused to marry her because she was a whore and her house was a bordello.
The primary witness in defense of Artemisia was Giovanni Stiattesi, a confidante of both Agostino and Cosimo, who claimed that Cosimo was angry at being sexually rejected by Artemisia, and helped Agostino plan his visits in accordance with her father's absence so that he could get back at Artemisia through Agostino. Other witnesses testified in regard to the chaste reputation of Artemisia and the morals of her family.
However Agostino brought in a parade of six witnesses who claimed that Artemisia was a nude model for male artists and a whore, and that her father sold her to men. The testimonies of some of these witnesses was so outrageous that even the judge intervened several times and accused them of lying. Agostino's primary witness however, was Tuzia, who claimed that Artemisia was openly seductive with Agostino and that that Agostino was obsessed with Artemisia. "He tormented me when he could not come in and talk to her," Tuzia declared.
Unfortunately, the last few pages and the verdict of the court transcripts are missing. We can suspect, however, that Agostino Tassi was convicted, as he was held in prison for eight more months after the trial, but then released prematurely by the judge who apparently pardoned him. Her father, Orazio, also filed suit against six of Agostino's witnesses for bearing false witness.
One month after the trial, to salvage her reputation, Artemisia was married to a relative of the witness, Pietros Antonio de Stiattesi, and moved to Florence; she and her husband separated a few years later.
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