Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1652), St. Catherine of Alexandria. Photo: Cecilia Heisser / Nationalmuseum.
STOCKHOLM.- Nationalmuseum has made a sensational new acquisition of a painting by the Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi. The motif is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a theme which recurs several times in Artemisia’s oeuvre. The painting will be on display in the galleries of the museum from February 25th.
The painting depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of philosophers and scholars, and was probably painted in Naples in the mid-1630s. According to the legend, as recounted by Jacobus de Voragine in the Legenda aurea, Catherine was a virgin known for her wisdom and beauty, who was martyred for her Christian faith in the early 4th century. Artemisia Gentileschi painted the theme several times, including self-portraits in the role of Saint Catherine.
Through its dramatic expression and innovative interpretation of the saint’s legend, the Stockholm painting stands out in the artist’s oeuvre. Artemisia Gentileschi’s works often depict characters involved in violent action, while the present picture presents a quiet scene. The saint is portrayed as an intellectual young woman, who leans against a book, the symbol of her erudition. Her fillet and purple dress of sumptuous silk taffeta indicates her presumed royal birth. In the foreground lies the palm frond of her martyrdom. The viewer’s attention is captured by the saint’s penetrating gaze, the soft modelling of her face and hands, and the landscape view. The chiaroscuro lighting and refined colour scheme contribute to the painting’s high artistic quality.
“We are very pleased to be able to add a work by Artemisia Gentileschi to our collections. This allows us, as a museum, to provide a more balanced view of art history, since works by women artists of this early period are oftentimes not represented at all. Artemisia Gentileschi is also highly topical at the moment, especially since the National Gallery in London is organizing a major exhibition of her work in the spring”, says Susanna Pettersson, Director General at Nationalmuseum.
Artemisia is perhaps the most famous of the rare female artists discovered until now in 17th-century Europe. She worked in her native Rome, in Florence, Venice, Naples, and London, for, among others, the Archduke of Tuscany and the King of Spain. She was the first woman to gain a reputation in her own right as a skilled painter of large-scale compositions with mythological or biblical motifs, and the first woman artist to be elected a member of the prestigious Florentine Accademia del Disegno.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintingSt. Catherine of Alexandria will be on display in the galleries with 17th- century art at Nationalmuseum from February 25th.
Nationalmuseum receives no state funding with which to acquire design, applied art and artwork; instead the collections are enriched through donations and gifts from private foundations and funds. This acquisition was made possible thanks to a donation made by a donor who wishes to be anonymous.