Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, was born in Rome in 1593. Her date of death is unknown, but it must be after 1654 when she is recorded as living in Naples. Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria (c 1615-17) has recently been acquired by the National Gallery in London, restored, and sent out on tour to unusual and unexpected destinations including a library, a school, and a health centre. The painting’s first stop is Glasgow Women’s Library where it is on display until 19th March, so hurry along if you are in the area.

Who was St Catherine of Alexandria? In the 4th century she was sentenced to death for her Christian beliefs and tied to a wheel studded with iron spikes. Although she was miraculously freed by angels, she could not escape a martyr’s death and was later beheaded. In Artemisia’s portrait she leans on the broken wheel with her left hand while her right hand holds a martyr’s palm. I spent an hour in the same room as Catherine / Artemisia and continually returned to that beautiful, clear gaze.

You can read more on the National Gallery’s site:

I wonder if Artemisia would approve of being added to a blogging challenge? It it gets more people looking at her wonderful painting, maybe she would. I’m linking to Becky’s Spiky Squares.


  1. Thank you for writing about this painter. I did not know about her and it was fascinating to read about her story and watch the National Gallery video. She must have been very determined and resilient to have persisted with her art despite the barriers to women, the sexual assault, and having five children!



  2. The gaze really draws you in – beautiful, poignant, sad, other-worldly. What could she be thinking? Fascinating historical background about both the artist and subject matter she has chosen to portray.


  3. Hi Anabel – I had heard of her … but more than that = not much. So you’ve ‘made’ me look her up and take note … and see your note on the frame and its adjustments. It’s great we’re still able to find out so much about early life … she’s a great painter with a wonderful selection shown in Wiki – but this one showing her as the martyred St Catherine is sad … yet evocative. Thanks for showing her to us – cheers Hilary


  4. What a very dramatic and very sad history this painting his. It is quite beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. I am wondering what she might be holding? any thoughts? I really like the frame as well…



    • She’s holding a palm leaf, which is apparently a symbol of martyrdom. The frame is interesting – it is 17C Tuscan but not original to the painting even though it suits it perfectly. It had to be cut down to size and, because of the central motif, that meant altering it in several places. One of the videos on the National Gallery site tells you about it. I looked very, very carefully but couldn’t see any trace of the joins. Very skilful!


  5. Not heard of the artist and only know of St Catherine’s story through the firework- always my favourite firework after that as it was appropriately gruesome and made a great display if you nailed them up in a row on a fence.


  6. It is a beautiful painting, and I can see why it held your attention for so long. Thanks for sharing this…and I also love how often you highlight women and their contributions in your blog…..


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