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New dates announced for postponed Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery

Above: Preparations are already underway at the National Gallery as frame conservator Isabella Kocum tends to the frame of Artemisia Gentileschi's Susannah and the Elders (1622; The Burghley House Collection), one of the highlights of the upcoming show © National Gallery, London

One of the biggest disappointments resulting from the National Gallery's shutdown for 111 days due to coronavirus was the postponement of the eagerly anticipated major monographic exhibition exploring the work of Artemisia Gentileschi (originally scheduled for 4 April – 26 July 2020).

But the good news is that the National Gallery has just announced that thanks to the generosity of its lenders, Artemisia has been rescheduled to open this autumn. It will now open on 3 October 2020 and run until 24 January 2021.

There is also an additional loan that will be joining the exhibition – the original transcript of the trial in which the artist Agostino Tassi is charged with ‘deflowering’ Artemisia Gentileschi (1612), on loan from the Archivio di Stato, Rome (pictured below). 

This is the first time the transcript will ever have been seen in public, despite it being referred to frequently in discussions concerning Artemisia's early life in Rome and in relation to her rape and the subsequent trial. 

The transcript of the trial, written partly in Latin but with spoken responses noted verbatim in Italian, will be displayed with its pages open at Monday 14 May 1612. Artemisia has been brought to face Tassi at the Tor di Nona prison in Rome. The officials, generally sympathetic to the Gentileschis’ cause, ask Artemisia if she is willing to confirm her earlier statement under ‘judicial torture’. This was an accepted means by which testimonies could be incontrovertibly established as ‘true’. Artemisia, understanding the necessity of this ordeal to validate her claims, agrees to comply: ‘Yes sir I am ready to confirm my testimony again under torture and wherever necessary.’    

Above: Proceedings of Agostino Tassi's trial for the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi, 1612, Manuscript Tribunale del governatore_Processi_sec XVII_104, f.341v.-f.342r © Archivio di Stato di Roma

The torture chosen was the sibille, a system of cords looped around the fingers and tightened. As the prison guard administers the torture, Artemisia utters the famous words: ‘È vero è vero è vero’ (‘It is true, it is true, it is true, it is true.’) 

Along with a number of her recently discovered personal letters (Archivio Storico Frescobaldi, Florence), which have been especially conserved for the show, the trial transcript will offer visitors an opportunity to ‘hear’ Artemisia’s voice and enable us to appreciate her vulnerability, wit and resilience.

The exhibition is curated by Letizia Treves, the National Gallery James and Sarah Sassoon Curator of Later Italian, Spanish, and French 17th-century Paintings. She says: “Artemisia was a survivor. She overcame rape, torture, humiliation and prejudice to become one of the most successful artists of her time. I was bitterly disappointed when we had to postpone the exhibition but I’m enormously grateful to our lenders for enabling it to go ahead. It's been a long time coming, but Artemisia will finally get her moment in the spotlight and I can't wait to share her story and paintings with visitors.”

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, says: “I am thrilled that Artemisia will open to the public in October after the coronavirus postponement. It will be a revelation for many to discover her powerful paintings and to get to know her story both from her art and from the biographical documents that will be seen in public for the first time.”

Tickets for Artemisia will go on sale in due course.

For more information, visit the National Gallery website.


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