Monday, 25 January 2021

Paris Haute Couture: Schiaparelli's Gilded Youth

A golden face mask with diamond piercings and a metalized resin bust moulded to the body were part of the Surrealist surprises in Daniel Roseberry’s new SS21 collection for Schiaparelli in Paris
After designing Lady Gaga's evocative outfit for Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, Daniel Roseberry launched his new haute couture collection for Schiaparelli in Paris. Rippling, muscular forms and startling Surrealist jewellery are integral to the designs. Graphic, vivid and full of disruptive ideas about couture, this season is the best yet of the couturier's short tenure, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Daniel Roseberry's leather
cuirass with a six-pack
and matching tote 
shaped like a
muscular torso 
ARRIAN of Nicomedia, a great friend of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and a provincial governor, described golden metallic face masks, worn as display armour in mock battles and cavalry parades. The masks, moulded to the shape of the face, were attached to embossed helmets. 

The face helmet was a luxury object, encasing the head, and while it was brought out for parades to heighten morale, it is also thought to have been intended to be worn in battle. Hadrian even watched one of these tournaments for elite Roman legions at Lambaesis, in Africa, during the hot months of 128 AD. 

Schiaparelli's creative director, Daniel Roseberry, has created a golden mask with diamond-encrusted nose and lip piercings, worn with a sculptural cuirass ,as part of his new haute couture Spring/Summer 2021 collection for the Parisian fashion house. 

Like the rippling muscles depicted on the bronze armour of the ancient Greeks, Roseberry’s creations have a heroic nudity, following the contours of the body. More aesthetic than functional, the Greek cuirass with its stylized, muscular breastplate displayed well-defined abs and even nipples. They were designed to prepare the soldier and his enemy for an epic conflict. 

Daniel Roseberry obviously has strength and battle-hardened bodies on his mind this season, empowering women within the Surrealist aesthetic of Maison Schiaparelli. A leather bodice, showing a ripped physique (see above) is mirrored by a surreal tote bag that echoes the six-pack torso of the breastplate.

It was only last Wednesday that Daniel Roseberry's work was seen by millions as Lady Gaga appeared, clad in the designer's fitted navy bodice worn with a lauded golden dove of peace brooch and a red silk skirt, to sing the national anthem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration at the Capitol in Washington D.C. As Kamala Harris is the first female and South Asian vice president, Roseberry wanted to capture the zeitgeist of this historic moment and celebrate the power and strength of women.

It was only last Wednesday that Daniel Roseberry's work was seen by millions as Lady Gaga sang at the presidential inauguration, clad in his navy, red and gold creation

A shiny, black leather bustier
and satin Shocking Pink bow
worn with eye-shaped earrings
The inauguration was a defining moment for Roseberry and for the rejuvenated house of Schiaparelli. This latest haute couture collection is only his third, since taking the helm of the storied French fashion house in 2019. He has brought a new energy and dynamism to Schiaparelli. After a decade at the avant-garde American Thom Browne label, he is familiar with experimental fashion and not afraid to be outrageous. 

"I want to make an alternative couture house,'' says Roseberry. "Here, the fantasy isn’t princess dresses or polite garments; here, the fantasy is within. These are clothes that make you aware of the fact of your body, that make you think about how you move through the world. 

"Elsa Schiaparelli also made clothes that torqued the body, but her intentions were never macabre; instead, she encouraged a childlike, un-neurotic exploration of the human form. Hers were garments meant to celebrate the joy of peacocking, the joy of showing off."

The first look in the new collection is a gleaming black, hand-painted bustier that hugs the body, offset by an enormous, soft silken bow in Elsa Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink, her signature hue. Roseberry says the shape of the bustiers used in the new collection is based on the original salon mannequins that still flank the Schiaparelli atelier in the Place Vendome. Daniel Roseberry takes Elsa Schiaparelli's iconoclastic ideas and the artistic history of the fashion house and then reimagines them, creating his own vision of haute couture. 

"The word “couture” conjures in the popular imagination: delicate embroidery, fragile as lace; skirts made from yards of silk; dresses as inoffensively pretty as something from a fairy tale ~ a vision unchanged from couture’s pinnacle in the 1950s," he explains. "But who says this is what couture has to be? In this, my third collection for Schiaparelli, I wanted to challenge the idea of what couture is, and should be, by making clothes that respect the tradition of not only this Maison, but the artistry behind it, while at the same time exploding the cliches associated with the genre."

"I wanted to challenge the idea of what couture is, by making clothes that respect the tradition of not only this Maison but the artistry behind it."

Daniel Roseberry mixes 
graceful, voluminous sleeves
with a black column dress 
and boots finished with gold toes
Elsa Schiaparelli, the Roman aristocrat who established her fashion house in Paris in 1927, was a rare professional female designer who commanded both critical and commercial success in France and internationally. She was always experimenting not only with aesthetics but with revolutionary technologies, creating new textiles and methods of making clothes. 

She may have grown up in a family of Italian aristocrats and intellectuals, amid the luxury of the Corsini Palace in Rome, but she was dynamic and worked hard, presenting four new collections a year that melded art and fashion.

Not only was Elsa Schiaparelli the mother of modern sportswear, she designed the first women's power suit, one-piece bathers and experimented exhaustively with new silhouettes, textiles and jewellery.

There were also raincoats in rubberised wool and silk, jumpsuits with visible, colourful zips, wrap evening dresses, culottes (shocking at the time), reversible gowns and a collection of Surrealist hats (the origin of the term "mad cap").

Research into the development of new materials led to revolutionary fabrics such as the glassy, transparent rhodophane, a type of plastic she used for overcoats, and rayon crepe that was like a crinkled, permanent pleat. Hand-knit jumpers with trompe l’oeil motifs depicting bows were immediately in demand, particularly in the United States.  

Elsa Schiaparelli, the Roman aristocrat who established her fashion house in Paris in 1927, was a rare professional female designer who commanded both critical and commercial success 

Eye-shaped glasses and a bag finished 
with a nose latch are part of  
Schiaparelli's Surrealist ethos
Schiaparelli's fashion house had become so successful that by1929 she had established ateliers, salons and offices at 4, Rue de la Paix in Paris. Her first collections included swimsuits, beach pyjamas and knitwear in strong contrasting colours with motifs that became well-known, including tortoises, skeletons and sailor tattoos. 

Her mix of sportswear with the fine workmanship of couture was so innovative that her first licensing agreements were offered by American textile manufacturers. 

She mixed with some of the most avant-garde artists of the day including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. She used their drawings to create patterns and designs for new gowns and even a compact perfume like a phone dial. 

Cocteau created a drawing he gave to Elsa Schiaparelli that was an optical illusion, two faces in profile that also looked like a vase of pink roses. This inspired the designer to create a blue silk jersey coat. with the sketch embroidered by Lesage on the back, that was part of her Autumn 1937 Haute Couture collection.

Other surrealist pieces included leather ankle boots with toes outlined in red stitching, a men’s fragrance bottle in the shape of Magritte's pipe, gloves with red python nails, necklaces encrusted with insects, and handbags with battery-powered decorations. The press articles celebrating Schiaparelli were used to create a newspaper printed fabric that has been copied many times since.

By 1932, Schiaparelli had eight ateliers with 400 employees in Paris, producing sportswear plus day and evening wear. The following year, the designer opened a store and salons in London and an office in New York. The business was expanding so quickly Schiaparelli took over the Hotel de Fontpertuis, at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris. It had five floors and housed Schiaparelli's now 700 strong staff. The ground-floor boutique had a wonderful view across to the Vendôme column.

The designer mixed with some of the most avant-garde artists of the day including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.

Dramatic jewellery in 3D 
teeth-shaped beading is 
highlight of the SS21 collection
Elsa Schiaparelli's international success grew rapidly and only seven years after she first opened her Paris atelier, she was featured as the first female fashion designer on the cover of Time, the American magazine, in 1934.

She had also gathered a famous clientele around the world, including Wallis Simpson (Schiaparelli created the trousseau for the future Duchess of Windsor) actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Lauren Bacall and French aristocrats like Marie-Laure de Noailles plus film costumes for Mae West.

Schiaparelli launched her first fragrance “S” in 1928 and then released Soucis, Salut and Schiap. By 1937, Schiaparelli had created her famous perfume Shocking which was a great success with its bottle designed by Léonor Fini, shaped like a mannequin with porcelain flowers and a velvet measuring tape. Schiaparelli also created her signature colour Shocking Pink which she used as a leitmotif throughout her work.  

Daniel Roseberry believes that even though he is exploring his own ideas, he still feels intrinsically connected to the Schiaparelli ethos: "As irreverent as all of this seems, it actually follows in the legacy of the house and its founder. Elsa was a great technician: She loved fabric, and she especially loved technical innovations. She was the first couturier to use synthetic fabrics; she was the first to incorporate plastic zippers into her work. Her ambition was to experiment, to be disobedient, in all things: fabrication, shape, color, iconography."

"Elsa's ambition was to experiment, to be disobedient, in all things: fabrication, shape, color, iconography."

A creamy confection, 
like a giant blooming flower
shows Roseberry's mastery 
of volume to create new silhouettes
Roseberry uses volume to create dramatic silhouettes that seem like giant, otherworldly flowers, such as the creamy ensemble with its colossal combination of cape and ruff (see at right). The dress forms a long, pale column that anchors the blooming fabric that frames her face and seems to form an energy field around her. 

The designer's exuberant work has captured the imagination of Parisians and the oversized jewellery, embroidery and voluminous shapes have already given the work an indelible Roseberry stamp. He is is very aware that he is designing for a digital audience in the time of Covid-19. Wthout the real life drama of a runway show, he integrates spectacular visual images into his collections. Jewellery and embroidery form an integral part of his designs and add to their conceptual brilliance.

"One thing that a couture atelier can uniquely do is embellishments, and these pieces are dazzling examples of the art of embroidery and beading," explains Roseberry." "I've always admired how Elsa embroidered pieces ~ in an era in which embroidery had a whispery, almost recessive quality, hers were barbaric and unapologetic.

"I tried to bring that same spirit to this collection; here, the embroidery has an almost raw feeling to it: It's treated like decoration, almost like jewelry ~ the hand of the artisan who made it is not able to be ignored. It's a fitting complement to the silhouettes themselves, which have the same kind of boldness."

"One thing that a couture atelier can uniquely do is embellishments, and these pieces are dazzling examples of the art of embroidery and beading." 

Cascading, silken folds 
in Shocking Pink fall to the floor 
from the model's earrings
Roseberry has created a fluid gown in the Schiaparelli pink, that falls in a cascade of silky, elegant folds to pool at the feet ~ all draped from gold earrings (see at left). 

The rest of the collection is dominated by a surrealist whimsicality that includes shoes finished with gold toes, gilded finger-shaped accessories that appear as simulacrum's of the real thing, plus long, ear-shaped earrings and eye-shaped sunglasses. 

Roseberry started this new Spring/Summer 2021 collection by pondering the conventions of couture dressing. He decided he wanted to start afresh and throw out what he saw as the traditional shapes of haute couture. 

"We started by discarding the usual silhouettes of couture. I wanted to take pieces that aren’t 'supposed' to be shown in this context ~ pants, for example; a bomber jacket ~ and invite people to see them anew," he says. 

"The techniques, too, are unexpected: a pair of blouson leather pants has an elastic waist; a pair of denim jeans is reimagined in stone washed silk duchess and embellished with dangling gold padlocks.  The fabrics are equally inventive and disruptive: along with over-dyed silk faille, molded leather, and crisp dry hand taffeta, there’s also silk-velvet bonded to neoprene, and a column gown draped in sinuous silk jersey. 

"We started by discarding the usual silhouettes of couture. I wanted to take pieces that aren’t 'supposed' to be shown in this context and invite people to see them anew."

Elsa Schiaparelli's signature lock
blown up into a minaudiere,
and pocket padlocks.
"To that end, we referenced many of the codes ~ and looks ~ Elsa invented, both directly and indirectly. Our basket-weave wool cape, embellished with thousands of gold bugle beads, invokes her 1938 hooded veil embroidered to look like hair." 

Elsa Schiaparelli's motif of a padlock is blown up into hand-bag and embellishments for pockets (see at right). Platform black leather boots are finished with irreverent gold toes: "The signature padlock, reimagined here as a hard-shelled minaudière; her measuring tape is blown out into an exaggerated, embellished silk faille train," he says.

Roseberry is giving a strong, yet imaginative edge to his celebration of femininity and womanhood of the future. He  is confident about the direction he is taking Maison Schiaparelli and his success rests on his judicious respect for the past along with his embodiment of Elsa's rebellious spirit. 

Like her, he wants to challenge artistic and fashion norms yet still keep that element of whimsy and humour that delight the spirit and make wearing the designs so appealing.  

"The word "magic" is often used when discussing couture. And it is magical. But behind the magic is a human hand and a human dedication. This collection is a tribute to both the work behind the magic ~ and the magic itself," he says. 

See behind the scenes of the SS21 collection at 21 Place Vendome in Paris with Daniel Roseberry 

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Paris Fashion Week: Y/Project's Puckish New Collection

Glen Marten's playful new collection for Y/Project was revealed during a digital show at Paris Men's Fashion Week. 

Weary of dreary, apocalyptic collections reflecting the pandemic, Paris men’s fashion week was full of new ideas and energy despite the shows being digital. Parisian label Y/Project was one of the highlights, combining men’s and women’s wear into one playful collection. This Autumn/Winter 2021 season melded curving, intertwining designs that upend traditional silhouettes, writes Antonio Visconti. Photographs by Giovanni Giannoni

Glen Marten's twists and entwines
shirts and coats into new pieces 
GLENN Martens is escaping the grind of the four Paris fashion weeks a year to make time for more creativity and experimentation. Starting this season, Y/Project will merge men’s and women’s wear into one unified collection. 

The designer took the helm of Y/Project in 2013 and has brought his signature inventiveness to his collections, playing with proportions, materials and dress conventions. There is an athletic, unisex street style to his designs that give them a dynamic, urban appeal. 

"The design ethos of Y/Project has always been about the blending and bending of historical references and pop culture, of past and present, of high and low," says Martens. 

The autumn/winter 2021 collection was presented in a virtual runway show set to an opera and techno soundtrack. Directed by Grégoire Dyer, the models criss-crossed a shadowy warehouse space, the only adornment, pale-blue arrows taped to the floor. 

 Martens aim was to experiment with the way clothes are made, with twirling and twisting designs created by a metallic wire integrated into the textiles. This gave jackets, skirts, pants and dresses a completely different, Surrealist aesthetic. Equestrian-print knitwear formed unusual shapes as the embedded wires formed abstract shapes. Different pieces were combined into one, including scrunched shirts and coats, hoods that became collars, parkas blending into dresses, collars melding with shoulder details.  

"The design ethos of Y/Project has always been about the blending and bending of historical references and pop culture, of past and present, of high and low."  

Coats, jackets and skirts
are deconstructed to 
create new silhouettes
The designs were accessorized with equally malleable shoulder bags, clutches and totes. Rose earrings from last season have lead to a new jewellery range with floral inspirations, using oversized hibiscus, forget-me-nots and daisies. Patterned shirts and scarves also feature flower and chain motifs,

Pieces with double layers, such as shirts and shirt dresses have an extra buttoned layer of fabric that can be styled in whatever way the wearer chooses. Martens wants people to be able to express their individuality and use the clothes to either be more formal or create more relaxed, deconstructed looks. 

The multiple necklines transform classic designs into contemporary pieces, where coats, sweaters and tank tops appear to merge. Coat lapels are deconstructed and form diagonal details, crossing the body. 

Martens core designs such as tulle leggings and panelled coats are still in the collection but there are new pieces including removable trompe l'oeil,denim chaps. Fluidity and voluminous forms are part of the label's DNA and there were ruffled shirts, dresses, and oversized scarves, coats and suits.

The colour palette included dashes of colour in bright magenta and pink mixed with neutral shades in cream, black, beige and grey. There were denim combinations in pastel blue with draped jackets and flowing trousers worn with cowboy boots. Amid the blocks of colour were printed shirts and scarves.

Martens wants people to be able to express their individuality and use the clothes to either be more formal or create deconstructed, relaxed looks. 

Shoulder and sleeves
become one in 
the new collection
This season, Y/Project worked with Canada Goose to create the large oversized parkas and capes. “This second chapter of the collaboration is exploring a new dimension of technical and functional outerwear: the protection from rain," says Martens. 

"We imagined extra-long waterproof overcoats and capes, covering up the body from head to toe, with drawstrings on both sides in order to create draped volumes reminiscent of opera curtains from the Belle Epoque." 

For the new collection, the designer also created a fresh range of shoes, partnering with Melissa. "This was a nod to Victorian vases, profusely adorned and embellished, merged with the popular British tradition of porcelain vases shaped as miniature court shoes, distorting the idea of preciosity," Martens explained. 

"This eco-friendly collaboration reflects a girl’s dream to wear a crystal shoe but with all the comfort Melissa is renowned for.” 


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Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Lady Gaga wears Schiaparelli at U.S President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony

A striking navy cashmere bodice and billowing red silk skirt are a brilliant foil for Daniel Roseberry's gold dove of peace, as Lady Gaga arrives to sing for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C

Lady Gaga wore a dramatic haute couture ensemble with a Surrealist gilded brooch of a dove from French fashion house Schiaparelli. Designed by Texan Daniel Roseberry for the singer's performance at U.S President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, it made an evocative political and fashion statement, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento 

Schiaparelli artistic director,
Daniel Roseberry's drawing 
of the original concept 
for Lady Gaga's look

ELSA Schiaparelli, Roman aristocrat, feminist and iconoclast, was one of the most revolutionary fashion designers of the early 20th century. Her striking Surrealist jewellery became an iconic part of her design lexicon, enhancing the dramatic gowns she created. 

Alberto Giacometti created bracelets and buttons representing mythological, animal creatures for her Paris collections. Brooches in the shape of an eye, decorated with a pearl in the form of a tear, were designed by Jean Cocteau. 

During the 1930s, Elsa also collaborated with Salvador Dali on suits with pockets that looked like drawers, a shoe-shaped hat and the famous lobster-print and skeleton dresses 

Even her mix of sportswear with the fine workmanship of couture was so innovative that her first licensing agreements were offered by American textile manufacturers.

Today, Daniel Roseberry, the artistic director of Maison Schiaparelli, uses his designs for jewellery as key motifs in his collections that connect back to the fashion house's avant-garde philosophy. 

The Texan designer took the reins of the Paris-based label in 2019 and his first collections combined contemporary fluidity with the dreaminess and experimentation of Elsa Schiaparelli. He says he is inspired by the history of Maison Schiaparelli, founded on inventiveness and ideas rather than just making beautiful clothes. 

Lady Gaga greets President Biden and
Vice President Kamala Harris at the Capitol
It seems fitting that the Oscar-winning Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta) chose the American designer to create her outfit for Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony as America's 46th President, alongside Kamala Harris, the first female and first black and South Asian Vice President. 

At this 59th presidential inauguration, Harris wore a symbolic, deep purple dress and matching coat by by two young black American fashion designers, Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson. 

Jewellery was important to her look too as the new vice president wore her signature pearl necklace, this time designed by Wilfredo Rosado especially for the occasion. At the ceremony in Washington D.C, Lady Gaga made both a political and fashion statement with her ensemble as she sang the national anthem to an enthusiastic audience. The 'Star-Spangled Banner' is a challenge to sing but she sang with passion and rousing applause greeted her performance.  

Gaga has been a keen Biden supporter and has encouraged her social media followers during the election to vote for him and Kamala Harris. She has often used her astonishing outfits to bring attention to her beliefs including her embellished "Vote" creation she wore in 2016, her meat dress worn at the 2010 VMAs and the singer's transformative gown at the most recent Met Gala. 

Daniel Roseberry's painting of
the final design 
However, for the inauguration Lady Gaga wanted to wear a gown that was formal enough to fit the occasion yet evoked the new ethos of the Biden presidency. 
And in the aftermath of the tumultuous era of Donald Trump, especially after the insurrection at the Capitol building just two weeks earlier, peace seemed a radical concept. 

So she wore a large, gilded Schiaparelli dove and olive branch as a brooch, designed by Roseberry, on her jacket symbolizing peace, love and renewal and Biden's theme of unity. 

The sheer size of the brooch with its glittering, gilt design gives it a Surrealist connotation and made it stand out against the custom Schiaparelli haute couture, dark-blue cashmere fitted jacket and billowing skirt in red silk faille. 

Gaga wore matching Schiaparelli Couture olive branch gold earrings and even had a gold microphone and gilded ear-monitors. Roseberry's voluminous design also paid homage to Elsa Schiaparelli's passion for dramatic silhouettes.

“As an American living in Paris, this ensemble is a love letter to the country I miss so dearly and to a performer whose artistry I have so long admired," said Daniel Roseberry. "Maison Schiaparelli is honored to have this chance to dress the iconic Lady Gaga on this historic Inauguration Day. God Bless Lady Gaga and God Bless America.” 

Lady Gaga's sings the US national
anthem as the new president looks on
The ensemble was a vivid contrast to the monochrome Givenchy cape she wore the day before the inauguration, when she arrived in Washington D.C and visited the Capitol building. The rich colours and flowing design of Roseberry's creation with the glimmering, soaring dove pinned to Lady Gaga's  bodice added to the pomp and ceremony of the presidential investiture. 

Gaga’s stylist, Sandra Amador, told Vogue, that she and the singer wanted a look that was “strong, romantic, and timeless. The dove, which represents love and peace, was our biggest inspiration. We paired the look with matching Schiaparelli Couture olive branch gold earrings and a pair of Cornelia James black gloves.” 

The day before the ceremony, Lady Gaga wrote that she hoped the inauguration would be the start of a more unified and tranquil era in the USA. “I pray tomorrow will be a day of peace for all Americans. A day for love, not hatred. A day for acceptance, not fear. A day for dreaming of our future joy as a country. A dream that is non-violent, a dream that provides safety for our souls.” Amen to that. 

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Tuesday, 12 January 2021

NGV Triennial: Enthralling, Dystopian, Sublime

British designer Richard Quinn's Look 2, Ensemble, Autumn-Winter 2020, at the National Gallery of Victoria. Satin, silk, diamonds, faux pearls, glass. Photograph: Mike Marsland. Cover picture: Carnovsky, Extinctions 2020 digital print on self-adhesive polyester fabric, 276 x 7424 cm. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria

The National Gallery of Victoria's exciting new Triennial exhibition in Melbourne shows a panoply of international contemporary art, design and architecture. The exhibition has a huge “wow” factor with a mix of major household names as well as completely unexpected, quirky discoveries, writes Sasha Grishin, Adjunct Professor of Art History, Australian National University

Fallen Fruit (USA artist collective),
Natural History
, 2020.
igital print on self-adhesive
polyester fabric.
Commissioned by the
National Gallery of Victoria.
IF the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2017 Triennial broke attendance records with more than 1.2 million visitors, it is nothing short of a miracle the 2020 Triennial is taking place at all. 
To bring together more than 100 artists, designers and collectives from more than 30 countries, featuring 86 projects, in the era of COVID, was always going to be a tall ask. 

It has happened and it has a huge “wow” factor with a mixture of major household names as well as completely unexpected, quirky discoveries, 

The Triennial 2020 is built around four broad themes with porous borders: Illumination, Reflection, Conservation and Speculation. Even after wading through the voluminous catalogue ~ more like a piece of bulky furniture than a read-in-bed book ~ the themes are more like general conceptual props than clear categories. 

The concern is with the ability for art to challenge assumptions about the status quo, alert us to impending disasters, suggest alternatives, dazzle us with unexpected inventions and inspire us with wondrous creations of undreamt of beauty.  

A world guided by AI 

Refik Anadol, Quantum Memories, 2020 (render) 
custom software, quantum computing, generative
algorithm with artificial intelligence (AI),
real time digital animation
on LED screen c4 
channel sound
1015.0 x 1020.0 x 250.0 cm
Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria 
© Refik Anadol 

The one work that had the greatest impact on me was by the young Turkish artist Refik Anadol, now based in Los Angeles. Titled Quantum Memories, 2020, it is presented on a huge ten by ten metre LED display screen encountered as you enter the NGV building in St Kilda Road. 

Commissioned by the gallery, it is a collaborative work between the artist and Google. Employing a dataset drawn from more than 200 million images linked to nature, Anadol uses a Google quantum computer (described as 1000 times more powerful than a conventional supercomputer) combined with machine learning algorithms enabled by AI. 

The image processing algorithms ingest millions of photographs and generate new images with related statistical properties. We are exposed to images of fantastic, ever-changing landscapes that never existed ~ somewhat uncanny, as if remembering something not previously experienced but somehow convincing and real. 

Enthralling, completely seductive and endlessly changing, this work brought to mind the words of the Sufi mystic Rumi, “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” Anadol presents us the world “in another form” guided by artificial intelligence (AI). Unlike a video installation presented on a loop, every moment is a state of flux, constantly reinventing itself and creating new images. 

Porky Hefer, Plastocene ~ Marine Mutants, 2020
(designer) Southern Guild, Cape Town (fabricator)
Felted karakul wool, industrial felt, 
leather, sheepskin, salvaged hand-tufted carpet,
recycled PEP stuffing, foam and steel. 
1512.0 x 1512.0 x 328.0 cm 
National Gallery of Victoria
© Porky Hefer. 
Moving from the high tech to the low tech, we encounter Porky Hefer’s Plastocene ~ Marine Mutants, 2020, from a disposable world. 

Hefer, based in Cape Town, South Africa, creates through his Southern Guild fabricators a series of handmade, large-scale environments consisting of imaginary sea creatures from a dystopian future he terms “Plastocene”. 

They include a huge, octopus-like creature made from hand-felted cigarette butts. 

In Hefer’s worldview, the end of the Anthropocene era will be marked by a new species that will transmutate and absorb plastic bags, straws, coffee cups and other pollutants. Although humans, as we know them, will struggle to survive in this polluted environment, these mutants will flourish.

 A selfie magnet

Jeff Koons, Venus, 2016-2020. 
Mirror-polished stainless steel with
transparent colour coating. 
254 x 144.5 x 158.4 cm 
Edition 1/3 + 1 A/P.
National Gallery of Victoria

If Anadol and Hefer are relatively unknown to Australian audiences, Jeff Koons is one of the most high-profile and iconic contemporary American artists. His Venus, 2016-20, is a two-and-a-half metre, mirror-polished, stainless steel sculpture with colour coating that adds to the Baroque exuberance of the piece. 

The source image is a relatively obscure 34-centimetre painted, porcelain figurine of the same name by Wilhelm Christian Meyer from 1769.

Koons has taken liberties with his model to heighten the latent eroticism of the forms. As he observes: Venus represents the combination of understanding the needs of society and of something greater than self, while at the same time the desire for procreation and the continuation of the species. 

It involves the seductiveness of all the senses ~ the joys, pleasures and pains of life itself. This acquisition will certainly become a selfie magnet for the NGV. 

Radiating in its space 

Another high profile participant in the Triennial is Korean artist Lee Ufan, who employs the Zen Buddhist practice of painting as a form of meditation revealing energy and realisation. His Dialogue, 2017, a major new acquisition for the gallery, is a sublime piece that seems to radiate in its space. 

The artist recently observed: “What is light and what is darkness? I do not like the definition that sees existence in terms of light and nothingness in terms of darkness. There is darkness in all forms of light, and light penetrates all kinds of darkness. A concept of light or darkness considered in isolation cannot be valid.” 

Kengo Kuma and Geoff Nees, Botanical Pavilion, 2020
various materials, 280 x 1000 x 1300 cm
with Lee Ufan's Dialogue, 2020
oil on canvas, 227 x 181.9 cms
National Gallery of Victoria

A meditative, hypnotic painting, it seems to vibrate in space and is in contrast to the loud, bombastic and attention grabbing forms populating the Triennial, which occupies all levels of the gallery building. 

It is always difficult to summarise an exhibition like this one, conceived as a series of immersive spaces with superb moments such as the blue paintings and sculptures of Dhambit Mununggurr, the dialogue with the NGV collection by the Fallen Fruit or painting with neon light by the Welsh conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans. 

The NGV Triennial is being held at a time when the success of exhibitions can no longer be measured by attendance numbers, but it seems to be hitting the right spot. Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, is allocating a record $1.46 billion for the building of a new NGV Contemporary and another $20 million is promised by the Ian Potter Foundation. The future looks bright for subsequent triennials. 

 Triennial 2020 is at the National Gallery of Victoria until 18 April 2021.

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Sunday, 13 December 2020

Risen from the Ashes: Pompeii's Vineyards

Roman fresco of a banquet scene in Pompeii on the walls of the House of Lovers (Casa dei Casti Amanti), just reopened after 40 years. Cover picture: a still life of grapes, pomegranates and apples in a glass fruit bowl, circa 63-79 CE.
Pompeii is famed for plaster-cast bodies, ruins, frescoes and the rare snapshot it provides of a rather typical ancient Roman city. But less famous is its evidence of viticulture, writes Emlyn Dodd

Vineyards replanted today in Pompeii's original plots
under Mount Vesuvius, using Campania's 
native Piederosso, Sciacinoso and Aglianico grapes.
Photo: Giuseppe Calabrese/Mastroberardino

WILD grapevines probably existed across peninsular Italy since prehistory, but it is likely the Etruscans and colonising Greeks promoted wine-making with domesticated grapes as early as 1000 BCE.

Pompeii preserved after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, sits within Campania on fertile volcanic soil with a temperate Mediterranean climate and reliable sources of water. 

Pliny the Elder, living nearby Pompeii in 77 CE wrote of the “vine-growing hills and noble wine of Campania” and the poet Martial described vats dripping with grapes, and the “ridges Bacchus loved more than the hills of Nysa”. Informed cultural commentary, from bona fide experts. The Greeks even referred to Campania as Oenotria – “the land of vines”. 

A famous wine region

Over 150 Roman farms have been discovered in the Vesuvian region, and many engaged in viticulture. Some of the most famous ancient wines came from this region, including the honey-sweet and expensive Falernian wine. Falernian was said to ignite when a flame was applied, suggesting an alcohol content of at least 40% – significantly higher than the 11% you could expect to buy from the bottle shop today. 

A fresco in Pompeii, 
circa 55-79 CE, depicting
Bacchus covered in grapes and 
Vesuvius with trellised vines.
Naples Archaeological Museum
While the Falernian was believed to be white, most ancient wines were red due to the less laborious production process. A wide variety of wines could be found on the Roman wine market, flavoured with sea water, resin, spices and herbs like lavender and thyme, or even fermented in a smoke-filled room to impart flavour. 

There is even possible evidence for early counterfeit wine. Archaeologists have identified imitation ceramic transport jars produced elsewhere and stamped with fake Pompeian merchant stamps. 

Agriculture among an ancient city

Within Pompeii’s city walls, vineyards hid behind taverns and inns as families and bar-keepers grew grapes on a smaller scale for their own tables and wine. When vines were covered by the volcanic eruption and later decomposed, they left cavities in the debris. 

By filling these cavities with plaster, archaeologists were able to reveal vineyards over entire city blocks. Excavations have revealed carbonised grape seeds and even whole preserved grapes caramelised from the volcanic eruption – their high sugar content gives them a glassy appearance easily spotted amongst the soil.  

Gardens were everywhere in Pompeii. The archaeologist Wilhelmina Jashemski noticed at least one in each house and, in some larger elite residences, up to three or four. Many included vines to grow grapes for fruit and wine, but also to provide shade over triclinia dining areas. If you visit the modern town surrounding Pompeii today, you will notice not much has changed in 2,000 years. 

The ‘Foro Boario’ vineyard

Excavations in 1966 revealed that vineyards had
once been planted in front of the ancient
amphitheatre. The Wilhelmina and 
Stanley A. Jashmemski archive.
 University of Maryland. 
Opposite Pompeii’s amphitheatre is the Foro Boario. Misnamed because archaeologists originally thought the site was a cattle market, excavations in the 1960s revealed it was once actually an extensive vineyard. 

 Over 2,000 vines were found, with almost the exact spacing between each vine as recommended by the ancient agricultural writers Pliny and Columella. 

Each vine was attached to a stake and 58 fruit trees were also planted in the vineyard. Local workers at the time of excavation even commented that the four depressions found around root cavities were identical to the holes holding water in their own vineyards. Excavations in 1966 revealed the area in front of the amphitheatre was once a vineyard. At the back of the vineyard was found a small two-room structure housing a lever wine press and ten dolia – large ceramic fermentation jars buried into the ground to keep temperatures consistently cool. 

 There are also numerous triclinia for eating and drinking scattered among the vineyard, suggesting the owner did a thriving business opposite the amphitheatre, with gladiatorial patrons coming to relax, eat and drink before and after spectacles. 

Resurrecting ancient wine

Today, Pompeii's vineyards are cultivated amid the ruins
inside the city's ancient gated homes.
Photo: Piero Mastrobeardino
That such large and valuable pieces of land within the city walls were dedicated to wine-making gives insight to the profitable nature and high esteem viticulture held in Roman communities.

Today, many of these vineyards have been replanted as they were at the time of the eruption, with relatives of ancient grape varieties like the Piedirosso: a fruity and floral grape with light herb and spiced flavours, perhaps related to Pliny’s ancient Columbina variety. 

In 1996, the local Campanian winemaker, Mastroberardino, cultivated and processed these grapes using Roman techniques and created the Villa dei Misteri wine: ruby red in colour with a complex taste, including hints of vanilla, cinnamon and notes of spice and cherry. It can be aged for 30 years or more – just like the 60-year-old Falernian drunk by Julius Caesar at his celebration banquet in 60 BC.

Emlyn Dodd is Greece Fellow, Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and Environment, Macquarie University

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Thursday, 3 December 2020

Artemisia Gentileschi: An Artist For Our Time

Artemisia Gentileschi's brilliant Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), circa 1638-9, oil on canvas, 98.6 × 75.2 cm
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

An enthralling exhibition of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi's work is now on at London's National Gallery. Simply called Artemisia, many of the show's paintings have never been seen in the United Kingdom. Working in Rome, Florence, Venice, London and Naples, Artemisia was a rare professional woman artist in the 1600s. The launch of this ground-breaking show was delayed due to Covid-19 and then closed due to the pandemic. It has just reopened this week. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Artemisia Gentileschi 
Self Portrait as a Female Martyr,
Circa 1613-14
Oil on panel 31.8 × 21.8cm
Private collection
©Photo courtesy of the owner

ARTEMISIA Gentileschi's dark, untamed hair is a leitmotif of the Roman artist's paintings, including her self-portraits. She may be wearing luxurious silks but this wild coiffure showed she was not bound by the conventions that held women back in 17th century Italy.  

The Italian artist did not live her life confined to domesticity, nor was she constrained by the fine clothes and elaborate hairstyles of the time. She worked as a sought-after, professional painter for powerful patrons, princes and kings at courts in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and London.

The energy and drama of her large works were celebrated during during her lifetime and she is one of the only successful woman painters of the Baroque age. Her Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, created in 1638, (see main picture above) shows her vivid expressiveness as an artist. 

She demonstrates the sheer physicality of painting by the dynamic pose and composition, one arm outstretched with brush in hand, her body twisting, while she holds a palette in the other. Unusually, for the period, Artemisia also travelled extensively and this work was painted while she was a guest at the court of Charles I of England in 1638-9.

Today in Rome, a 16th century palazzo houses several of her works plus paintings by her father Orazio Gentileschi. In this context, you can see how the paintings were seen by Artemisia's contemporaries, hung in high-ceilinged rooms above richly-carved, walnut furniture. Her father's work is accomplished but sedate and classical whereas Artemisia painted arresting scenes full of action and with dynamic characters. Her father knew Caravaggio in Rome who lived nearby in Via Divino Amore. Caravaggio's exultant use of brilliantly contrasting light and shade, inspired many 17th century painters, including both Orazio and Artemisia. 

This first exhibition of her work at the National Gallery brings together paintings from public and private collections all over the world. Even in the big, open spaces of the gallery's Sainsbury Wing, Artemisia's paintings command the rooms. Her figures seem to leap from the canvas into contemporary London. Although the atmosphere and intimacy of seeing the paintings in a Baroque Roman palazzo is missing, seeing 30 of her works (there are 57 known paintings) together in one exhibition along with her letters, paints a full picture of this complex woman's life and work. 

Artemisia worked as a sought-after professional painter for princes and kings, at courts in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and London

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait 
as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 
circa 1615–17, oil on canvas, 
71.4 × 69cm ©The National Gallery, London
Two years ago, the National Gallery acquired Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (see at right), the only painting by her held by a British museum, and the inspiration for this new show of her work. The portrait cost $4.7 million and is, astonishingly, one of only 21 paintings by female artists in the gallery’s collection of more than 2,300 works.

“This is the first exhibition devoted to Artemisia Gentileschi in Britain, a country she visited and worked in at the end of the 1630s. It celebrates her astounding artistic achievements with a superb selection of her paintings," says Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, "She was a remarkable and immensely admired artist in her lifetime and she is an inspirational figure in our own time.” 

Artemisia Gentileschi was already creating accomplished paintings by the time she was fifteen and she continued to work for the next 40 years. She was highly regarded by her contemporaries, with work being commissioned by Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, Philip IV in Madrid, and Charles I in London. She moved in artistic, aristocratic and learned circles, she even met Galileo Galilei in Florence and wrote him a letter in 1635. 

Her presence at court in Florence allowed her to meet patrons and expand her knowledge of literature, music, theatre and fashion. At a time when women would have had very few opportunities to study or work as professional artists, Artemisia was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) in Florence. Today, Artemisia Gentileschi is considered one of the most important artists of the Baroque period yet she disappeared from view after the 18th century until she was rediscovered in the 20th century. 

"She was a remarkable and immensely admired artist in her lifetime and she is an inspirational figure in our own time.” 

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith beheading Holofernes, 
Circa 1612-13, oil on canvas, 158.8 × 125.5cm.
Napoli, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. 
©Luciano Romano 

“Artemisia is an inspirational figure of resilience and unbowed creativity in the face of exceptionally challenging odds," says Letizia Treves, the curator of the National Gallery exhibition. "I hope that this exhibition will bring Artemisia’s artistic achievements to the fore, so that visitors can fully appreciate what a talented painter and extraordinary woman she really was.” 

Artemisia's paintings tell stories and she drew on myths and allegories from the Bible and ancient history. Her paintings often depict powerful female heroines. She brings their strength and emotion out especially in famous works like Judith Slaying Holofernes (see at left) which she painted twice, with a cinematic depiction of a violent and bloody scene. 

A highlight of the exhibition, the two paintings are hung together for the first time, showing the harrowing scene of Judith beheading Holofernes. The women are determined, Judith's maidservant holding the Assyrian general Holofernes down, while her mistress has the sword in one hand and his hair clasped in the other, as blood splashes her blue silk gown and streams down the white sheets. "The visceral violence of these paintings has frequently been interpreted as Artemisia taking revenge in paint, translating onto canvas her own experience of physical attack," says Letizia Treves. 

"Artemisia is an inspirational figure of resilience and unbowed creativity in the face of exceptionally challenging odds."

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant,
Circa 1623-5, oil on canvas. 184 × 141.6cm.
©The Detroit Institute of Arts
Ten years later she painted another work on the same theme, one of four all together, Judith and Her Maidservant, considered to be her masterpiece (see at right). Believed to have been painted painted between 1623 and 1625, the biblical story is from the Book of Judith. 

After Judith seduces and murders Holofernes, the maidservant wraps the severed head with Judith keeping watch, sword still in hand, the candlelight playing across the women's faces.

Here Artemisia uses chiaroscuro to put Judith's face into dramatic focus with the single light source. This tenebrism, from the Italian tenebroso meeting dark and mysterious, is a way of painting that was particularly beloved of 17th century artists, using strong contrasts of light and shade to create highly-charged,  atmospheric scenes. Again, Artemisia uses the rich hues of the gowns in gold, deep-blue and purple as well as the dark-red velvet drapery to heighten the conflict, tension and passion. 

Judith was seen as a symbol of righteousness in the 16th and 17th centuries. Catholics saw Judith's conquest of Holofernes as representing victory over Protestantism, truth over heresy, during the Counter-Reformation. More personally, it has been argued that Judith beheading Holofernes, is a representation of her feelings about the attack on her by her father's friend, artist Agostino Tassi, when she was a girl. 

This exhibition shows for the first time in the United Kingdom, the original transcript of the trial in which Tassi is charged with ‘deflowering’ Artemisia Gentileschi. The Latin and Italian transcript is from 1612 and is held at the Archivio di Stato in Rome. The pages are left open at Monday May 14th 1612 at the National Gallery show, when Artemisia faces Tassi at the Tor di Nona prison in Rome. 

The artist uses the rich hues of the gowns in gold, deep-blue and purple and dark-red velvet drapery to heighten the tension. 

Artemisia Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders
1622, oil on canvas.161.5 × 123cm
©The Burghley House Collection
In 1611, Orazio Gentileschi was working with Tassi to decorate the vaults of the Casino delle Muse inside the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome. In May, Tassi visited Artemisia's family home when she was alone and raped her. There was a seven-month trial and this is recorded in the long court transcript exhibited in London. Tassi had the choice of five years’ hard labour or exile from Rome (the latter, which he chose, was not enforced). 

Artemisia had to confirm her statement about the rape under what was called ‘judicial torture’. During the 17th century, testimonies were established by using this appalling method. Artemisia had to agree to go through with it: ‘Yes sir I am ready to confirm my testimony again under torture and wherever necessary,’ she is recorded as having said during the trial. 

This method was called sibille, where cords were looped around the fingers and tightened. Since she was a painter and used her hands for her work, this must have been torturous mentally as well as physically. 

The description of the case includes Artemisia's words after her description of the attack by Tassi: ‘È vero è vero è vero’ (‘It is true, it is true, it is true'). After the trial, Artemisia's father quickly married her off to a Florentine painter, Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi and the couple left Rome for Florence. The trial not only effected Artemisia’s life but her reputation and gave her a notoriety in her own time and in the centuries to follow. 

Four years after her marriage, she took a wealthy aristocratic Florentine lover, called Francesco Maria Maringhi. We know about the affair today, because 36 letters she wrote between 1616 and 1620 were discovered by Francesco Solinas in 2011. They are held at the Archivio Storico Frescobaldi in Florence. The National Gallery included them in the show as they depict Artemisia's quotidian life in Florence. This is the the first time they have been seen outside of Italy. 

Artemisia was subjected to a type of torture called sibille where cords are looped around the fingers and tightened.

Artemisia Gentileschi Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, circa1620-25.  
Oil on canvas, 80 × 106cm. Private European collection
© Photo: Dominique Provost Art Photography - Bruges
Artemisia's husband, Pierantonio Stiattesi, apparently knew of the relationship between his wife and her lover. The letters show that he corresponded with Maringhi, writing on the back of Artemisia's passionate missives.

Maringhi provided financial support to the couple and was a wealthy patron. However, by 1620, news had reached the Florentine court about the affair and husband and wife returned to Rome. 

Artemisia, born in Rome in 1594, began her training as an artist when she was teenager, working with her father at his studio and workshop. Her earliest known painting is dated to 1610, entitled Susannah and the Elders (see image above) and shows a woman as an unwilling victim of two lascivious men. This was a theme she painted at least twice in her career and this first one is the most dramatic and emotive, even though she was only sixteen years old. 

The scene shows a distressed Susannah with two men looming above her while she is bathing. Although this was a well-known theme painted during the Baroque period, Artemisia paints it with a great depth of feeling, showing the woman's real anguish, unlike other versions of the subject painted by men, which portray Susannah as flirtatious rather than fearful.

Artemisia began her training as an artist when she was teenager, working with her father at his studio and workshop.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Danaë, circa 1612.
Oil on copper, 41.3 × 52.7cm.
©Saint Louis Art Museum
The National Gallery exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with Artemisia’s studies in Rome under the guidance of her father Orazio. 

Along with the painting of Susannah, the first room includes her painting of Cleopatra (about 1611-12) and Danaë (see at right).  

Danaë was created when Artemisia was only 19 years old and yet her painting is masterly. Both the reclining figure and the rich fabrics are depicted with a sure hand. 

The skin is luminous, the deep red of the bedcover, the blue of the dress and the falling glint of gold all make a strong counterpoint in tone and texture. The painting is based on the the ancient Greek story of Danaë who is impregnated by Zeus, king of the gods, who transforms himself into a golden rain. 

Artemisia often used herself as a model in paintings and this was also useful as a way to promote herself and her work. The section of the National Gallery exhibition that covers the Florentine period includes three works based on herself. These all date from the mid-1610s: Self Portrait as a Female MartyrSelf Portrait as a Lute Player and Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria. There are strong autobiographical themes in her paintings and this can be seen especially in the work she did in Florence where lived for eight years, until 1612. 

The artist often used herself as a model in paintings and this was also useful as a way to promote herself and her work. 

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as a Lute Player 
1615-18, oil on canvas, 77.5 × 71.8cm
©Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut 
The painting, Self-Portrait as a Lute Player (see at right) is thought to have been painted for Grand Duke Cosimo II de'Medici. It was originally held in the Medici Collection. 

The painting is very engaging, Artemisia gazes out directly at the viewer, unsmiling but wistful as her hands pluck at the beautifully-painted lute. Her intransigent hair is wrapped in a white and gold turban. 

A blue, silk gown with voluminous sleeves drapes from her arms and the low bodice shows her decolletage. This work demonstrates her painterly skill and shows how she had developed her own particular style by this stage in her career. 

The painting passed through a number of private collections over the centuries. But by 1998, it was rediscovered in a European collection and acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut in 2014. 

Artemisia spent the last 25 years of her life in Southern Italy, in the capital of Campania. She established a studio in Naples with her artist daughter Prudenza, the only surviving child of her five children. Artemisia also began to paint and collaborate with other leading artists, working on large-scale altarpieces. There are two present in the exhibition, the Annunciation (1630)  and Saint Januarius in the Amphitheatre at Pozzuoli (1635)  from the Cathedral Basilica San Procolo in Pozzuoli, a seaside suburb of the city. 

Artemisia's 'Self-Portrait as a Lute Player' was painted for Grand Duke Cosimo II de'Medici

Artemisia Gentileschi, Corisca and the Satyr. 
Circa 1635-7, oil on canvas155 × 210cm
Private collection, Italy.
©Photo courtesy of the owner
Another key work she created in Naples, between 1635 and 1637, is the large painting Corisca and the Satyr, that depicts a riveting scene of escape, once more with a woman as the central character in the drama. 

Inspired by writer Giovanni Battista Guarini's 16th century play called Il Pastor Fido, Artemisia paints Corsica as a nymph who is given a beautiful gown and sandals by a satyr who is trying to seduce her. But when he reaches out to grasp her hair he is only left clutching a wig as she runs away. 

This was another of Artemisia's paintings that has only recently been discovered, in 1989. It was originally believed to be by another female artist called Annella de Rosa. However, when the work was cleaned, the signature of Artemisia Gentileschi could be seen clearly on the trunk of the tree in the background, behind the satyr. 

The painting shows Artemisia's virtuosity in capturing movement and emotion and her ability to render the gold of the dress and the rose-red silk cloak in scintillating naturalism along with the stylish, blue ribbons of the laced sandals. The picture is a brilliant evocation of fashion in 1630s Italy. 

Her large painting 'Corisca and the Satyr' depicts another dramatic scene with a woman as the central character

Artemisia Gentileschi Esther before Ahasuereus, circa 1628-30
Oil on canvas. 208.3 × 273.3 cm
©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
An interesting major work that has also survived from her Naples period is the large-scale work, Esther before Ahasuerus, painted between 1628-30.  By this time Artemisia was the most famous woman painter of the seventeenth century, after she her stints in Rome, Florence and Venice. 

The painting is complex and ambitious in composition and story-telling. The scene shows the biblical heroine Esther, fainting before her husband King Ahasuerus of Persia, as she begs him to stop a Jewish massacre. 

Artemisia creates the drama of the scene with the interaction between the king and his wife. The king leans keenly forward, gazing at Esther as she is supported by two maidservants. The painting is given a contemporary edge as all of the characters are wearing fashionable 17th century dress. Ahasuereus wears a striped, velvet doublet in green and white with matching hose and Esther is dressed in an elaborate gold gown with an embroidered bodice, enormous puffed sleeves and a blue sash. It is not known who originally commissioned the painting in Naples. Today, it hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after it was acquired by donation in 1969.

The National Gallery show ends with Artemisia's travels to London where she meets her father. While she is at the court of Charles I of England, she paints her superb Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting in 1638-9 (see main picture). Today the picture hangs in the Royal Collection in London and is considered one of her best works. The painting evinces the vigorous passion Artemisia brought to her work and her life as a female artist in a man's world. Reaching across four centuries, her superlative work is still compelling and she has become an icon of struggle and success for all women artists.

Artemisia is at London's National Gallery until January 24th 2021

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