A brief timeline.
January 25, 1635
Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century painter from Rome, writes to a patron:
“Most Serene Lord, it seems to me that for three reasons I rightly should devote part of my meager talent to Your Highness. First, because my most humble house is at the service of your illustrious house. Second, because I have served all the major rulers of Europe, who appreciate my work, even though it is the fruit of a barren tree. And third, because it would provide the evidence of my fame.”
January 13, 2017
I am searching for plane tickets from NYC to Rome in order to research Artemisia. Mariah and I are thinking about creating a new play, this time a solo show, inspired by her life and work. Not only because of her bold, gripping paintings and that she has been largely lost to history, but also, quite honestly, because of her biography. At 17, she was raped by a fellow painter, hired to be her tutor. We are interrogating this link between young women and art and the men who use power and sex to dominate them. The plane tickets average about $700. We do not go to Rome. We do, however, keep thinking about the play.
January 23, 2018
One year later, we are nearing the end of our script workshop for Artemisia's Intent. Two months ago we began building this show in earnest with a team of five female artists. In three weeks, we will premiere it at the 2018 FRIGID Festival. This weekend I will travel to Detroit, MI - a quick 28 hour trip - so that I can see my most beloved painting her hers, Judith and her Maidservant, where it resides at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.
We like to think that time is expansive but it is easily compressed.
One of the most jarring aspects of creating this show has been seeing the overlap between the words and experiences of Artemisia in 1612 and countless women today.
“I say this, that everything I have said is the truth, and that if it were not the truth I would not have said it.”
“You can ask me a million questions—I’m never going to say anything different. I never have said anything different.”
Which trial testimony belongs to Artemisia in 1612 and which to Taylor Swift in 2017?
We like to think that time marches forward but things do stay the same.
The Weinstein story broke in October 2017, just as we were about to start the devising process. Each rehearsal came on the wave of new allegations. It was, to say the very least, challenging to dive into this work. When we tell people about the show, we often hear: “Wow! You were really ahead of the curve!”
Actually, we were so far behind. Looking back at Artemisia and back again, at the women portrayed in her paintings - the biblical Susanna and Bathsheba, among others - reveals a patriarchal system neatly woven into a worldwide tapestry. Such fine threads that they are often hard to see.
January 22, 2018
Various news outlets announce that yet another man in power is accused of “sexual misconduct” against women. This time it’s Gordon Edelstein, the leader of a major non-profit theatre. These names will keep coming.
Artemisia’s story echoes that of many women, especially those in the arts and entertainment industry. She was raped at 17 by a tutor hired to improve her artistic skill: a relationship that has an implication of gratitude and obedience. This man has the ability to propel her career or ruin it. She also endures an arduous trial in which she is tortured to ensure the veracity of her testimony. Imagine: an artist undergoing the finger screws to assert that yes, her testimony is true.
Today we may not have finger screws, but there are other means of punishing women who dare to tell the truth, especially if it exposes a power structure that has been built and honed over centuries to oppress them.
January 30, 1649. Artemisia’s words have a fresh sting.
“You think me pitiful, because a woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen. I shall serve you with greater perfection.”
Mariah Freda in rehearsal for Artemisia's Intent.