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Artemisia (Five Star Paperback) Paperback – 31 Mar 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail; New Ed edition (31 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852427663
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852427665
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 181,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


What makes Artemisia a great book is this double destiny, of a book lost and recreated. A book that by being posthumous, rewritten, resurrected, gained incalculably in emotional reach and moral authority' Susan Sontag (in her introduction) Artemisia is a tour de force, but certain passages are of exquisite resonance (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Anna Banti was born in Florence in 1895 and graduated from the University of Rome. She directed the literary section of the magazine Paragone and, after the death of her husband, the famous art critic Roberto Longhi, also the art section. She wrote Artemisia at the age of fifty-two and went on to produce a great deal of work on art and criticism after it was published. Anna Banti died in 1985.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There’s a great quote from Susan Sontag in the introduction to this novel which made me think of Hilary Mantel’s stunning achievement in the Cromwell novels: To write well about the past is to write something like fantastic fiction. It is the strangeness of the past, rendered with piercing concreteness, that gives the effect of realism.
Artemisia is in some ways a forerunner of Mantel’s Cromwell novels. The boldness and emotional intensity with which Banti allows herself to be possessed by Artemisia is similar to Mantel’s wholehearted immersion into the intimate life of Cromwell. Like Mantel, Banti gives herself licence to imagine and invent descriptive details which bring her character vividly to life. Where this novel differs is it doesn’t have the compelling drama of an exciting historical bigger picture. This is more a study of a character in isolation. Banti endeavours to capture Artemisia in her solitude, where her paintings are conceived and created.

At the beginning of the novel Banti is trying to console herself for the loss of a manuscript. It is 1944 and she has evidently spent the war writing a novel about Artemisia Gentileschi. When the Germans blew up Florence’s bridges everyone living in the vicinity of the bridges was evacuated. Banti’s manuscript therefore was destroyed along with her home. It’s not clear why she doesn’t take the manuscript with her. Clearly there were many things that meant more to her. But the irony is, the loss of one version of the novel heralds the creation of what you feel in your bones is a much more daring and brilliant version.

It should be said Banti leaves a lot out. If you know nothing about Artemisia you might get the feeling from this novel that her accomplishments were less important than history has deemed them.
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Format: Paperback
Thanks for the book. I received it in good condition and on time.
The story is interesting. Facts and fiction to the plight of modern day women as juxtaposed to those of the 17th century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars art meets history 23 Mar. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a haunting tale of a woman painter on the skirts of history. Anna Banti intertwines not only fiction with history, but also past and present and her own life with that of Artemesia. The story encompases a number of years and is written in a stream of conscious manner. It is not fully understood until the end. The reader becomes wraped up in the mystery that the author has created.
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual historical novel about a remarkable woman 25 July 2016
By Vicki J. Kondelik - Published on
Format: Paperback
Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia tells the story of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who was one of the first women to have a successful career as an artist. The daughter of the painter Orazio Gentileschi, who was a friend of Caravaggio, Artemisia was born in Rome in 1593, and showed great promise as an artist from an early age. She was raped by her father’s assistant Agostino Tassi and took her rapist to court, which did not happen very often at the time, and was tortured to confirm her story. Tassi was found guilty, but got off with only a light sentence, while Artemisia’s reputation was ruined, and Roman society shunned her. As a result of the scandal, she was married off to a neighbor and went to Florence, where she received commissions for her art. Many of her paintings were of heroines from the Bible and classical mythology. Eventually she left Florence and came back to Rome with her husband, but the marriage did not last. She went to Naples with her daughter, and founded a school for art there. But she was never entirely happy in Naples. In Banti’s version of the story, her daughter turned against her. She joined her father in England, at the court of Charles I, and painted the queen’s portrait. After her father’s death, she returned to Italy, where she lived her last years.

Banti, the pseudonym of art historian and novelist Lucia Lopresti, tells Artemisia’s story in a very unusual way. She intersperses Artemisia’s life with her own experiences in war-torn Florence during World War II. The Germans destroyed her house and, with it, the original manuscript of this novel. It was going to be a more straightforward novel of Artemisia’s life, but instead, in the later version, Banti has turned it into a dialogue between herself and Artemisia, and you see Artemisia following the author through the devastated city. This technique makes the novel difficult to follow at first, as the reader tries to keep track of who is speaking, Banti or Artemisia, but ultimately it proves rewarding. Banti’s writing is beautifully lyrical, and her description of Artemisia’s journey to England, in particular, reads more like poetry than prose. This is an excellent novel about a remarkable woman.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars at the peril of oblivion 28 Feb. 2015
By whj - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was interested in this book after reading an essay by Susan Sontag, which is the introduction of this book. The way it is written, weaving the dialogue between the narrator and the artist with the story of this artist of the 16 Century, is very creative and lovely, as the two characters are faced with the danger of oblivion and destruction in more than 4 centuries apart. The life as a female artist in the 16th Century, the price she had to pay for the independence is beautifully written with great introspection, vulnerability as well as historical sensitivity. I checked out her paintings which are definitely unique even to my unskilled eye, and amazingly expressive. The author describes Artemisia "pride, disdain with a touch of insolence" which is her defense, and her solitude and disappointment, as well put by sagacious Pietra, "No women can be happy unless she is stupid" This is a wonderful book, an opportunity to journey back to the time of the courage and pain of Artemisia.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolute Triumph 12 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Atemisia Gentileschi, born in Rome in 1598, is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of art, though very little is known about her life. The daughter of a painter herself, Artemisia painted beautiful scenes of the women of Roman and biblical history even though she could neither read nor write.
Artemisia had, to put it mildly, a turbulent personal life. She was discredited in a rape trial, betrayed by her own father and abandoned by her husband. Her professional life, however, was far different. She was the first woman admitted to the prestigious Florentine Academy; she established a successful art school in Naples; she raised her daughter on her own and supported herself financially during a time when a woman's life was defined only by home, husband, children and the Church.
Although the above is about the sum total of all that's known about Artemisia Gentileschi's life, writer, Anna Banti, managed to flesh out these bare bones facts into one of the triumphs of 20th century Italian literature.
"Artemisia" is definitely not a biography or even a fictionalized one. It is not a historical work; in fact, the setting of this book is definitely ahistorical. It consists of an amazing dialogue between the author and Artemisia. There are, as way I see it, three levels in this book: the experiences of Artemisia, the experiences of the author and a blending of the two, to make a very fascinating third.
The very essence of this book consists of Artemisia's travels, all made for the sake of her art. Included are the young Artemisia's traumatic experiences in Rome, her marriage, her years of success in Naples, her long and undoubtedly arduous journey to England and back again to her native Italy.
One of the things that makes this book so powerful is Banti's constant authorial intrusion, a device that would weaken (or destroy) more conventional novels. Moving back and forth from the thrid to the first person, Banti holds fascinating conversations with Artemisia. This leads to a captivating, but very complex, narrative. As the dialogue between author and subject intensifies, Banti complicates matters even further.
In 1944, when the first version of "Artemisia" was nearly complete, events of the war caused it to be destroyed. The "Artemisia" of the first version constantly intrudes on the "Artemisia" of the second version, however. Confusing? No, not really. Banti is far too good a writer for that. Complex? Yes. And lyrical and skillful and fragile.
Despite the fact that this is not a historical novel, it is highly atmospheric. There are no detailed descriptions to weigh down the weightless quality of Banti's lyricism, but there are many vivid images of 17th century Rome, Naples, Florence, France.
No matter how fast you usually read, "Artemisia" is a novel that should be read slowly. This is a demanding book that requires much concentration on the part of the reader, but this concentration will be richly rewarded.
There is a vague, circular quality about this book and, in a sense, it ends where it began. In reality, however, nothing is known about Artemisia Gentileschi's life after her return to Italy from England.
This book is complex, intricate, self-reflective and extremely lyrical. Although it has an ephemeral, gossamer quality, it succeeds wonderfully in bringing Artemisia Gentileschi to life in a vivid and wonderful manner.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Knot to Untie 18 Feb. 2016
By Roger Brunyate - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by someone who read it in Italian, and at first I tried to do the same. But it seemed strangely difficult, even though I use the language often in my operatic work, so after 50 pages I switched to this translation by Shirley D'Ardia Caracciolo. Certainly, this solved the problem of Anna Banti's unusually large vocabulary, although Caracciolo's translation seems dense and dull by comparison, conveying the sense but failing to find an equivalent to the light springing rhythm characteristic of Banti's prose. But it was still a tricky knot to untie, because the same qualities that make the novel so original also make it hard to follow.

"Anna Banti" was the pen-name of Lucia Lopresti (1895-1985), a scholar and essayist, writing on aspects of Italian art and history. This, her first novel, began as an imaginative reconstruction of the life of the painter Artemesia Gentileschi, the first and virtually only woman in 17th-century Italy to gain acceptance comparable to her male colleagues. Banti had just finished the novel in draft form when, in August 1944, her house in Florence was blown up in a rearguard action by German troops evacuating the city, and the manuscript was destroyed. In wakening Artemisia to life once again, the author was no longer content with a straight biography but, as she explains in a preface to the reader, wanted to set down her own emotions as well: shaken by events, but both possessed by and possessing Artemisia.

So scenes in the crowded streets in baroque Rome alternate with crowds of refugees in the Boboli Gardens in Florence, fleeing the mined buildings and huddling on the grass to avoid being machine-gunned (no wonder I had a hard time following!). And in the middle of all that, the ghost of Artemisia: "Silently she moans, like a Medusa among her snakes, and once again she is supine, crushed in a white sleep of dust, turning her head to one side like a woman in death searching for her last breath. Dusk has overtaken us; this time yesterday Florence and all her stones were solid, everything that they sheltered was intact. Down below in the city, the last beams are caving in; there are reports of mysterious fires burning among the rubble."

One further difficulty is chronology. Little was known of Artemisia's life at the time Banti was writing, so if readers check her account against modern information in Wikipedia, say, they will find considerable discrepancies. There is also the fact that, after drafting Artemisia's story presumably in sequence, she was now recapturing it as a timeless whole: "Having been driven out of the rational time-setting of her story, she now carries all her ages with her mysteriously." So we know that Artemisia had been raped as a teenager well before the occasion is described. We see her being subjected to torture before we realize that this is a legal requirement to prove her former virginity in her father's suit against her attacker. We meet someone described as her father-in-law pages before we are told of her arranged marriage. And we hear about her fame and the paintings on which it is based before most of them have even been painted. Many of these are of women being exploited by men (such as Susanna and the Elders) and women getting their revenge (such as Judith and Holofernes). Artemisia was an accomplished artist, and one with an agenda.

Whether told linearly, or with author and subject folded together in an emotional knot that transcends time, Artemisia's is a stirring story, a locus classicus of feminism. But the reader should be warned: it does not make for easy reading.
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