cover image I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi

I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi

Gina Siciliano. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (292p) ISBN 978-1-68396-211-3

Inspired by Artemisia Gentileschi’s grim 17th-century painting Judith Slaying Holofernes, Siciliano delivers a painstakingly well-researched graphic biography of the Baroque artist and rape survivor. Growing up in Rome during a brutal, patriarchal era, and under the religious rule of a Catholic church prone to torture, and where violence against women was a fact of life, Gentileschi proved herself as a talented artist while a teen, under her father’s tutelage. “Women painters were considered quite the spectacle—miraculous freaks of nature,” Siciliano writes—and Gentileschi faced constant sexual harassment (and professional jealousy) from her father’s peers. Their grabby advances and assaults shaped Gentileschi profoundly: “Something deep inside her was giving way, transforming, hardening, darkening.” Her anger fueled her brush as she created works that immortalized women who fought against male control with every weapon they had—including art. Siciliano’s ballpoint versions of classical paintings breathe of thousands of hours of hand-cramping work to recreate the originals. While her meticulously penned panels, often featuring a scowling Gentileschi, are a bit crowded by dense hand-written expository, they carry thoughtful historical context, and emotional urgency. This impressive debut is the detailed, passionate scholarly portrait that Gentileschi deserves. (Sept.)