Caravaggio, Calling of St. Matthew, 1599-1600
Although Caravaggio did not have real pupils, many other artists were fascinated with his work and spread
his style throughout Europe. One of the most interesting of these artists was Artemisia Gentileschi, who
used Caravaggio’s tenebrism and sharp foreshortening to create powerful images of female heroines.
Gentileschi often included her own image as one of the main characters; for example, she is shown as the
Old Testament heroine Judith in several paintings. In La Pittura, Gentileschi portrayed herself as an allegory
of painting—her wild hair is a sign of her inspiration, and she wears a pendant of a small mask, which
symbolizes illusion. But this is also a recognizable portrait. Although women were often shown as
personifications of concepts, to see an image of an actual woman painting is rare.
Gentileschi is one of the few female artists from this period about whom we have information. She was the
daughter of a painter, from whom she learned her profession. Women were not accepted as apprentices
or as students in academies at this time. Women who did create works of art in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries often worked anonymously under a better-known master, and sometimes later,
collectors and art historians would attribute their works to men in order to increase their value. Only
recently have the works and lives of these female artists started coming to light.