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Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player ( detail). Oil on canvas, 30 ½ x 28 ¼ in. (77.5 x 71.8 cm.). Estimate: $3,000,000-5,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s announced the upcoming sale of Old Master Paintings Part I, which will take place on January 29 at 10am and will feature a superb selection of masterworks by French, Italian, Flemish and British artists from the 15th through the 18th-century. Works from several renowned private collections will be offered, including those of Eric Martin Wunsch, Nathan and Benjamin Katz, and Tom and Ruth Jones, providing collectors the opportunity to acquire fresh-to-the-market works of significant provenance. The sale is led by a rare self-portrait of renowned Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, which has been consigned by a distinguished American collection. Old Master Paintings Part I is expected to realize in excess of $19 million. 

Leading the sale is Self-Portrait as a Lute Player by Artemisia Gentileschi (Rome 1593-1654 Naples) (estimate: $3,000,000-5,000,000), one of the key painters of the Baroque age and among the boldest and most powerfully expressive female artists in history. Remarkable for its highly accomplished handling of paint, the work has been dated by scholars to circa 1616-17, when Artemisia was about 25 years old and a newly-accepted member of the Accademia del Disegno in Florence. Self-Portrait as a Lute Player was likely commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, as it is recorded in a 1638 inventory of the Villa Medici at Artimino. The picture’s Florentine origins are also evident in the sumptuousness of the costume, particularly the elaborate gold embroidery and the opulent fabric of the turban and sash. The work, which was lost to notice until its discovery in a private European collection in 1998, has since been exhibited at such renowned institutions as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Galleria degli Uffzi. 

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Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player. Oil on canvas, 30 ½ x 28 ¼ in. (77.5 x 71.8 cm.). Estimate: $3,000,000-5,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

Provenance: Possibly painted for Grand Duke Cosimo II de'Medici (1590-1621).
Medici collection, Villa Medici, Artimino, by 1638 until at least 1683.
Private collection, Europe; Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 9 July 1998, lot 68, where acquired by the present owner.

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Literature: Archivio di Stato, Florence, Guardaroba Medicea 532, Inventario della Villa di Artimino 1638, fol. 16v.
Archivio di Stato, Florence, Guardaroba Medicea 889bis, Inventario della Villa di Artimino 1683, c.28r.
G. Papi, 'Artemisia, senza dimora conosciuto,' Paragone, XLV, n. 44-46, 529-531-533, 1994, p. 199; p. 202, n. 6.
G. Papi, 'Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art by Roger Ward Bissell,' The Burlington Magazine, CXLII, no. 1168, July 2000, p. 452.
M. Garrard, 'Artemisia's Hand,' in The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People, ed. M. Bal, Chicago, 2006, p. 12.
L. Whitaker and M. Clayton, The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007, p. 301, under no. 106.
C. Zecher, Sounding Objects: Musical Instruments, Poetry and Art in Renaissance France, Toronto, 2007, p. 146.
J. Zutter, 'Review of Exhibition,' Renaissance Studies, XXVII, no. 1, 2013, p. 157; ill. p. 139, fig. 4.

Exhibited: New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Paint and Passion: Artemisia Gentileschi, Orazio Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi, 7-13 June, 1998. Rome, Museo del Palazzo di Venezia; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and St. Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy, 15 October 2001-6 January 2002; 14 February-12 May 2002; 15 June-15 September 2002, no. 57 (catalogue entry by J. Mann).
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi a Firenze, 22 May-17 October 2010, no. 25 (catalogue entry by G. Papi). Milan, Palazzo Reale and Paris, Musée Maillol, Artemisia Gentileschi: storia di una passione and Artemisia: pouvoir, gloire et passions d'une femme peintre, 23 September 2011-29 January 2012 and 14 March-15 July 2012, no. 15 (catalogue entry by F. Solinas).
On loan, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002-2013.

Notes: Lost to notice until its discovery in a private European collection in 1998, this beautiful Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the leading painters of the Baroque age and among the boldest and most powerfully expressive woman painters in history. Born in Rome, Artemisia studied with her father, the prominent artist Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), who introduced her to the dramatic realism of Caravaggio and the practice of painting from live models. In 1611, when she was 17, she was sexually assaulted by her father's business associate and fellow artist Agostino Tassi, a crime against the family's honor. When Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia, Orazio brought charges against him, and at the end of a protracted trial, Tassi was convicted and sentenced to a 5-year banishment from Rome. To minimize the scandal which the trial had engendered, Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry the minor Florentine painter, Pierantonio Stiattesi, and at the end of 1612, the couple moved to Florence, where they would live until 1620.

Artemisia's years in Florence were marked by prodigious professional success. She became the first female artist to be accepted as a member of the Accademia del Disegno, on whose roster she was listed as early as 1616. She was patronized by Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger, who commissioned a picture for a ceiling in the Casa Buonarotti, and soon won the favor and protection of Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici and the Grand Duchess Cristina, for whom she painted a considerable number of works. Indeed, the present self-portrait may have been a commission from Grand Duke Cosimo himself, as it is recorded in a 1638 inventory of the Villa Medici at Artimino as "Un Quadro in tela alto b. 1½ largo b. 1¼ con adornam.to nero filettato d'oro entrovi dipinto il ritratto della' artimisia di sua mano che suona il liuto" (A picture on canvas 1½braccia high and 1¼ braccia wide in a black frame bordered in gold, the portrait of Artemisia playing a lute painted by her own hand; see Mann, op. cit., 2001, p. 322 and Papi, 2000, op. cit., p. 452). Comparison with Artemisia's physiognomy in the Jérôme David engraving of c. 1628 after a lost painted self-portrait (fig. 1) confirms that the present picture is a likeness of the artist: both show the same full face, high forehead, small bow lips, and prominent straight nose which broadens at the tip. The nearly identical face appears in Artemisia's Self-Portrait as a Martyr Saint of c.1615 (private collection) and in the Saint Catherine of Alexandriain the Uffizi of c.1618-19. While many other depictions of women in Artemisia's early religious and mythological works have been considered self-portraits as well, they are less precise likenesses than Artemisia "types," as Mann has observed (Mann, 2001, op. cit., p. 322).

On the basis of its stylistic affinities with other works of the Florentine years--in particular, the Allegory of Inclination of 1615-16 (Florence, Casa Buonarotti) and the Conversion of the Magdalene of c.1615-16 (Florence, Palatine Gallery, Palazzo Pitti)--the Self-Portrait as a Lute Player has been dated by all scholars to circa 1616-17, when Artemisia was about 25 years old and a newly-accepted member of the Accademia del Disegno. The picture's Florentine origins are also evident in the sumptuousness of the costume: the elaborate gold embroidery on the bright blue dress and finely wrought detailing of the turban and sash perfectly accord with the Florentine taste for decorative flourishes and opulent fabrics, also seen in the work of the Florentine painters Lodovico Cigoli and Cristofano Allori.

Papi has observed that the Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is remarkable for its highly accomplished handling of paint, evidenced by the subtle play of light on the sitter's skin, which becomes almost translucent along her arm and back of her left hand, as well as the extraordinary refinement in the rendering of the lute, certainly painted from life, given the exactitude with which all its parts are shown (Papi, 2010, op. cit., p. 160). The agility and tension of her fingers suggest that she is actually playing the instrument, and indeed, Artemisia is known to have played the lute from a young age. She apparently knew music well, as the celebrated composer and lutenist from Modena, Bellerofonte Castaldi (c.1581-1649) was among her friends (Milan, 2011, op. cit., p. 164).

The subject of the figure playing a lute was popular in Rome in the early decades of the 17th century, especially among northern artists like Gerrit von Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, who were inspired by Caravaggio's treatments of the theme. With its soft, seductive sound, the lute was typically associated with lust and eroticism, and thus often appears in depictions of courtesans and brothel scenes of the time, such as Baburen's The Procuress of c.1622 (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts). In Artemisia's Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, her prominently exposed, full breasts seem to make such an allusion, yet her clear-eyed, serious, impenetrable expression hints at a more complex underlying meaning. Mann has observed that Artemisia is likely presenting herself in costume, deliberately playing a role (Mann, 2001, op. cit., p. 324). Another such instance is a second self-portrait recorded in the 1638 inventory of the Villa Medici at Artimino, which is described as a portrayal of Artemisia in the guise of an Amazon with a sword and helmet (Papi, 2000, op. cit.,p. 452 and Florence, Archivio di Stato, Guardaroba Medicea, op. cit., fol. 14r). Whatever their intended meaning may have been, Artemisia's self-portraits as different personae may be seen as anticipating, by nearly four centuries, the work of another great female artist, Cindy Sherman.