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The Passion of Artemisia [Paperback]

Susan Vreeland
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Nov 2002
From extraordinary highs - patronage by the Medicis, friendship with Galileo and, most importantly of all, beautiful and outstandingly original paintings - to rape by her father's colleague, torture by the Inquisition, life-long struggles for acceptance by the artistic Establishment, and betrayal by the men she loved, Artemisia was a bold and brilliant woman who lived as she wanted, and paid a high price. Now Susan Vreeland, author of the acclaimed GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, brings her story to passionate and vivid life.

Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; New Ed edition (4 Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074726533X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747265337
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 194,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

What do Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi and 20th century novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch have in common? In addition to the obvious--that they're both women--their life stories have eclipsed their art; sadly, because their work is of real significance and interest. Gentileschi has been the subject of an earlier novel by Anna Banti and a 1998 film. In actuality, she was raped at 19 by one of her father's fellow painters, Agostino Tassi, and the documentation of the seven-month trial has survived, to be given very different interpretations in all these accounts. Susan Vreeland's Artemisia is a feisty feminist, brimful with brio and passionate about her painting, who offers her narrative in the intimacy of the first person. After Tassi's trial, Artemisia's father arranges her marriage to Pietro Stiattesi, a Florentine painter--and dedicated philanderer. Artemisia, so she hopes, is to begin life anew in Florence. Indeed, she gives birth to a beloved daughter, Palmira, and distinguished painting commissions come to her. She is accepted as the first woman into the Academy of Art and Design, is envied for of Cosimo de' Medici's patronage, befriends Galileo, and soon outstrips her husband's reputation.

Her marriage asunder, she begins her peripatetic travels to Genoa, Venice, Florence and eventually to London, always in search of work, and always fleeing the taint of her rape. Vreeland paints her character and the different worlds she inhabits with loving and compelling detail--the sights and sounds of Florence, the snooty male hegemony of the Academy, the Medici feuds and intrigues. But the writing, particularly in Artemisia's own reflections and dialogue, is often jarringly clunky: "I really was living the life of an artist in the greatest art city in the world"; "I wanted to hug them all"--and this does detract from the novel's tone and persuasivenss. The book's cover is a travesty: a portrait of St Cecilia--the model is thought to be Artemisia and the painting is by her father. But why not one of Artemisia's own extraordinary paintings: indeed, her absorbed, intense self-portrait speaks volumes? What a sad irony that its very boldness has been sacrificed to the more saccharine beauty of her father's work. --Ruth Petrie --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Fascinating...Vreeland edits the facts with such skill that the result is an ingenious fragment of imagined autobiography...that has a resonance with Artemisia's time and yet is wholly contemporary' The Times


'Not just another book with a Vermeer on the dust jacket....This beautifully imagined and written a work of art itself'

'A highly entertaining and thought-provoking read...a treat' Sunday Herald

Wonderful...extraordinarily skilled...deft, perceptive...deeply moving

A work of art

'An enjoyably languorous read...Viva Artemisia!' The Big Issue in the North

'Boldly imagined' Observer

'Vreeland is expert at seeing the world through the eyes of an artist' Guardian

'Highly enjoyable' Sunday Telegraph

'Beautifully imagined...well crafted...[an] entertaining and moving novel' Historical Novels Review

'An extraordinary tale of a woman's struggle for professional acceptance...vivid and inspiring...a must for any potential artist or biographical enthusiast' Buzz magazine


'This is not just another book with a Vermeer on the dust jacket...It is an illuminating meditation on the nature of art....This beautifully imagined and written a work of art itself' Sunday Telegraph

'...celebrate the skill with which Susan Vreeland evokes the diverse owners of the picture across the ages' Independent

'A moving paean to the transforming power of art' Good Book Guide

'Susan Vreeland's...imaginative, deeply moving triumph' Ms London

'A remarkable debut' Buzz

'Vreeland's moving tales are interwoven to make a memorable novel' Oxford Times

' intricate and delicate as the brushwork on a Johannes still life' Literary Review

'Intelligent, searching and unusual... filled with luminous moments' New York Times Book Review

'Subtle and impressive debut' Publishers Weekly

'Wonderful...extraordinarily skilled...deft, perceptive...deeply moving' Kirkus Reviews

'A work of art' New York Post


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books of the year 12 Nov 2002
By Christine L HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had never heard of Artemisia Gentileschi before I picked up this book, I bought it because I liked Vreeland's writing in Girl in Hyacinth Blue. In The Passion of Artemisia Vreeland steps up a gear and delivers a tale which contains some of the most wonderful descriptive passages I've ever read. Having finished the book I went and checked out some books with photos of Artemisia's paintings and Judith, Cleopatra and Lucrezia were just as I'd imagined them in the book.
Having been a stranger to Artemisia Gentileschi I cannot vouch for how one of her fans will react to this piece of fiction, but I think that anyone who's willing to accept this book as such will fully enjoy it as I have. We suffer with Artemisia through the early part of the tale when she has to testify at the trial against the man who raped her, her father's subsequent betrayal and her rushed marriage with Pierantonio Stiattesi. We get to see Florence through the eyes of a newcomer, the eyes of someone for whom Florence is not just a beautiful city, but the place where dreams come true and her remarkable friendship with Galileo Galilei. We finally get to follow Artemisia's and Palmira's nomadic life, travelling from one city to another in search of a patron, the excitement of their new life in Genoa, the bittersweet return to Rome and then her final confrontation with her father.
This is one of my favourite books of this year and I'm looking forward to reading many more books by Susan Vreeland.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Story 9 Jan 2006
When I picked up this book, I knew nothing of Artemesia Gentileschi, her father Orazio, or early Italian art in the Post-renaissance period. By the time I put it down, I had fallen in love with this relatively unknown female painter and her entire life story. This book richly displayed the life of Artemesia, one of the first female artists of her time period, as well as life and principles in Italy in the early 1600's. It contains many historical facts and references including the actual instance when Artemsia was seduced by her father's business partner and her tutor. He is, at the time, nearly twice her age. Susan Vreeland uses what information is available about Artemesia and fills it in completely using her own imagination. It is the tragic yet glorious story of Artemesia's relationship with her distant father as well as her struggle to become an independent woman artist in a male dominated society. It is filled with beautiful description, intriguing story telling and realistic characters. It would definitely be enjoyed by those who admire the work of Tracy Chevalier, as it gives life to paintings done by Artemesia Gentileschi. It is also a novel for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in post-Renaissance art. After reading this novel, I was so intrigued by Artemesia's story, that I went to the bookstore and bought another book about her. Artemesia has an amazing story, and Susan Vreeland has told it masterfully.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving in places, but.... 16 May 2007
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
I really enjoyed reading this book, but there are flaws in the story: as another reviewer here (rightly) points out, the speech is sometimes oddly jarring e.g. Americanisms such as 'gotten' in the mouth of a 16th century Italian? But more than that, there are strange emotional gaps in the narrative as the author crams a whole life into the book: I never really understood how Artemisia moved from being the raped and victimised girl, married off by her father to a man who wanted her dowry, to somehow falling in love with that same man and being devastated when she finally realises that he has a mistress seven years later - where does she think he's been all day? And why should he owe her any loyalty, given the purchased nature of their 'relationship'?

That apart, the depiction of Artemisia as a painter is done well and imaginatively, though there are no real surprises there.

The relationship with her daughter Palmira was my favourite: while there is no doubt that Artemisia loved her daughter passionately, you really feel the everyday irritating-ness of a child who won't sit still and constantly wants attention when her mother desperately wants to paint.

Overall, I think this is too short a book to achieve what it wants to do, and so there are emotional short-cuts all the way through: all the female charcters love each other devotedly, even when they've just met. Artemisia never has to struggle to get patrons or be accepted by the Academy or make friends in all the various cities she moves to. She slips easily into marriage with a stranger and suddenly they're a family. And yet something about the story pulls you on anyway, that is stronger than all these quibbles.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An artist and mother 21 Mar 2006
This book was an unexpectedly, very enjoyable read. It tells the story of real-life character Artemisia Gentileschi, a post-renaissance painter and a woman in a man’s world, “the story of a glorious woman, gloriously told” the blurb gushes. Set in a time when painting was the key art form, when emotion poured out of each canvas and where the art consumer discussed the moral wherefores hinted at by the position of a dagger or a woman’s glance off canvas. It’s an exercise by author, Vreeland, in understanding an artist through their work. Written in the first person, Artemisia as she refines her skills and art struggles with her own personal demons, mulls over each brushstroke and the implications of composition. When she paints Lucrezia who, in all previous interpretations of the story, kills herself to avoid the shame of rape. For Artemisia this has a special resonance since she experienced rape herself at the hands of her father’s collaborator and then suffered torture and humiliation by the Inquisition as well as being called a whore by all in Rome. She feels blameless and struggles to paint the story in such a way that she can retain integrity. It’s fascinating stuff; throughout we are immersed in the world-view of the time that art teaches us.
In our visual age, we have greater access to Artemisia’s work then she did. We can Google her images in seconds whereas for her to see one of her father’s pieces in a private chapel, she had to obtain a special eitter of permission from Cardinal Borghese and suffer a sarcastic interrogation.
The book is about the sacrifices people make in order to create art.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The passion of artemisia
Thus book was a excellent read one I would recomend to my friends and hope they would enjoy as much as I did
Published 3 months ago by Carolyn j brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Artemisia Gentileschi's passion
I hunted out this book, after seeing another reviewer's review of another book on Artemisia Gentileschi. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Keen Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story - don't miss it!
A fascinating book about a real person, an amazing woman who must have been someone very special to achieved such status as a painter in an era when women had no clout at all. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Judith Stewart
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I enjoyed reading this book, but it fell far short of being anything special. Although based on a real character it failed to provide a really good picture of the artist and the... Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2010 by Poppy Barrow
5.0 out of 5 stars A very Excellent book with a good narrative
When I borrowed this book out of the Local library I thought it would be one of those rambling art history stories chronicling an artist shamefully but Susan Vreeland brought the... Read more
Published on 13 July 2009 by alex mateus
2.0 out of 5 stars limping for greatness
I have been interested in AG for years.
I mean 20 or so. Anna Banti's book was written by a real writer at least but before the full publication of the rape trial transcripts. Read more
Published on 8 Oct 2008 by gabrial
5.0 out of 5 stars Talented, beautiful and brave beyond belief
Artemisia is a beautiful and passionate woman - but her chief love is painting, not satisfying the social conventions of her time. Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2007 by Claire King
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good if not totally convincing
This is an interesting story with an interesting setting. It's main flaw is in it evocation of historical speech and behaviour. Read more
Published on 25 Jun 2006 by Charlie Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking
A literary pleasure for all of you out there who like historical fiction,based loosely on real events, the passion of artemisia will have you hooked from the first page.
Published on 15 Dec 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars a disappointment
Although factually interesting at times, the story was somewhat dull. If you enjoyed "Girl with a pearl earring", this book is similar in theme. Read more
Published on 12 Aug 2004 by Reading rose
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