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Baroque bodices are ripping in a celluloid resurrection of the rape of 17th-century chiaroscurist Artemisia Gentileschi by her tutorand father Orazio’s colleagueAgostino Tassi. French director Agnès Merlet’s new film, Artemisia, which opens Friday, follows Artemisia’s pursuit of naked bodies for figure studies while embroiled in what Merlet conceives as a romantic relationship with alleged rapist Tassi. In New York, the Richard Feigen Gallery is hosting “Paint and Passion: Artemisia Gentileschi, Orazio Gentileschi, and Agostino Tassi,” a show insinuating at lustful, rather than felonious, activity among the three artists. And in the District, painter Judy Jashinsky takes a feminist approach to the revival by exploring Artemisia’s circumstances in the year of her rape, along with Tassi’s subsequent trial, in “Roman Fever,” a series of paintings and prints on view at the Artist’s Museum gallery.
Artemisia’s renaissance, spearheaded by art historian Mary Garrard’s 1989 monograph, began as feminist-revisionist art history’s reclamation of the maligned artist, but as the film and New York show suggest, some prefer Artemisia as seductress.
Jashinsky’s reaction to Merlet’s film biography is bittersweet. Merlet’s hot-blooded Artemisia proves
to Jashinsky that “it’s impossible for people to imagine a woman artist
who is neither wildly passionate nor
a victim.” By contrast, Jashinsky’s realist oils and pastels show “Artemisia as a rational businesswoman who learned the art business from her father and functioned within a system hostile to women.”
Young Artemisia’s scandal resonates with our he-said, she-said Zeitgeist, but Jashinsky isn’t satisfied presenting only the steamy stuff. Her next series will depict a triumphant Artemisiaher post-trial life in Florence and Naples, creating minor masterpieces like Judith Slaying Holofernes, and her acceptance in 1616 into the Academy of Design. But Artemisia junkies are less likely to follow the artist beyond her titillating adolescent sexuality. They’ll find another skirt to peek under.Jessica Barrow Dawson
Judy Jashinsky’s Roman Fever is on view at the Artist’s Museum, 406 7th Street NW, through May 30; (202) 638-7001. Artemisia, directed by Agnès Merlet, opens Friday at Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle.