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Determining the effect of the rape on Artemisia’s psychology might appear to be straightforward. In fact it is anything but. Consider what Artemisia is recorded as having said during the trial. She emphasised that Tassi promised to marry her  immediately after he raped her. She described how his promise of marriage induced her to “yield lovingly, many times, to his desires” over the next eight months. It was only when she discovered he had no intention of marrying her, she says, that her father brought the suit against him on her behalf.

No one knows, and perhaps no one can know, what lies behind Artemisia’s assertion that their post-rape relationship was “loving”. But it indicates just how difficult it is to draw conclusions about how the rape “must” have affected her and her art.

Once the idea that the rape is the key to her art and her life is put aside, it is possible to appreciate her inventiveness and her creativity, as well as the power of her personality, in a much fuller fashion, and in a way that gives some credit to her ability to shape her own life and art, rather than having it determined by the shock of her experience at the age of 17.

There are plenty of other explanations for Artemisia’s decision to depict the moment in which Judith decapitates Holofernes — and it is worth remembering that we can’t even be sure that it was Artemisia, rather than one of her patrons, who decided on that subject. She painted the same scene again several years later, and there is no doubt that on the second occasion, it was the result of a request from a patron. Blood and violence were a standard theme of post-Caravaggio Roman artists, as they were of a great deal of Counter-Reformation art in Italy. Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia’s father and teacher, knew Caravaggio personally, and copied his style of painting. When he instructed Artemisia, Orazio would have taught her how to imitate many of Caravaggio’s innovations, such as intense realism and strongly directional light — and some of her early paintings are characterised by those features. She certainly saw Caravaggio’s pictures in Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi Francese. Whether she saw Caravaggio’s very violent version of Judith Decapitating Holofernes we cannot know. But there are some obvious similarities: Caravaggio depicts the blood spurting from Holofernes’s neck as Judith hacks off his head, just as Artemisia would do.

There was no shortage of trauma in Artemisia’s life. During the trial, she was tortured by having a rope tightened round her fingers. Tassi was allowed to question Artemisia directly, and did so in as unpleasant a way as possible, asking her to go through the details of her loss of virginity. It was a very public humiliation. Within a month of the trial, she married Pierantonio Stiattesi. The newlyweds moved almost immediately to Florence, at least partly to get away from the unpleasant gossip generated in Rome by the trial.

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