Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, 1593- c.1654), Lucretia, About 1627.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The J. Paul Getty Museum today announced the acquisition of a major work by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1654), the most celebrated woman painter of 17th-century Italy.

Recently rediscovered after having been in private collections for centuries, the painting represents the artist at the height of her expressive powers, and demonstrates her ambition for depicting historical subjects, something that was virtually unprecedented for a female artist in her day. The subject, which Gentileschi painted several times over the course of her career, no doubt had very personal significance for her: like Lucretia, the Roman heroine who took her own life after having been raped, Artemisia had experienced sexual violence as a young woman. In this painting Lucretia emerges from the shadows, eyes cast heavenward, head tilted back, breasts bare, at the moment before she plunges a dagger into her chest.

Although renowned in her day as a painter of outstanding ability, Artemisia suffered from the long shadow cast by her more famous and celebrated father Orazio Gentileschi (of whom the Getty has two major works, Lot and His Daughters and the recently acquired Danaë and the Shower of Gold),” said Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “A thorough reassessment of her place in baroque art had to wait until the late 20th century, since when she has become one of the most sought-after painters of the 17th century. Her achievement as a painter of powerful and dramatic history subjects is all the more remarkable for the abuse and prejudice that she suffered in her personal life—and which is palpably present in Lucretia’s suicide, and other of her paintings where the central protagonist is a wronged or abused woman. In this and many other ways, Artemisia’s Lucretia will open a window for our visitors onto important issues of injustice, prejudice, and abuse that lie below the beguilingly beautiful surfaces of such works.”

According to the History of Rome (Book I, 57-59) by ancient Roman historian Livy, the legendary Lucretia was the virtuous wife of the nobleman Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. After her rape by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the King, she called on her father and her husband for vengeance and then, while proclaiming her innocence and chastity, stabbed herself to death. Her tragic gesture led to a rebellion that drove the Tarquins from Rome and marked the foundation of the Roman Republic. As an example of female strength and courage, Lucretia became a favorite subject in Renaissance and Baroque art, often depicted isolated in the moment just before she plunges the dagger in her chest.