Many elements must come together for a painting to be considered successful. Perhaps paramount in 17th century Europe were the guidelines set forth for art following the Council of Trent: Clarity, realism and emotional stimulus. Many artists fulfilled these requirements in their own ways: Rubens employed his mastery of drawing, while Caravaggio masked his apparent lack of skill by inventing a new way of painting, tenebrism (Caravaggism). While clarity could be established relatively easily, this doesn't mean images had to be simple. One of the most complex elements of Baroque painting is the use of women as subjects, particularly women of power, be they royal, biblical, or artists themselves. Artemisia Genteleschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620) presents a female painter drawing on her own experiences to depict a heroine defeating a great enemy as only a lady could. Peter Paul Rubens' Medici Cycle (1622-25), specifically The Presentation of Her Portrait to Henry IV, shows the product of a woman patron trying to glorify herself as a queen and justify her political ideals while being presented quite literally as an object to her husband-to-be. Finally, Diego Valazquez's Las Meninas (1656), a royal family portrait focusing on the daughter of Philip the IV and Mariana of Spain, but using the commission as a vehicle to draw attention to the artist and praise his craft. Using these three works, one can conclude that a woman, present as the artist, the patron or a decorative faux-subject, was a very powerful tool in Baroque art.
Artemesia Genteleschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes shows the Old Testament story of a Jewish widow and her maidservant beheading the Assyrian commander Holofernes to save the city of Bethulia. The history of the artist is a strong influence on this work, as Artemesia was raped at age 17 by an associate of her father. Mary O'Neill points out in her article "Artemesia's Moment" that rape in the 17th century was a crime against a...
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