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A Woman Like That: Artemisia

Distributed by 7th St. Film Syndicate, PO Box 2035, Canal Street Station, New York NY 10013; 917-714-0344
Produced by Ellen Weissbrod
Directed by Ellen Weissbrod
DVD , 93 min., color
Jr. High - General Adult
Art History, Renaissance Art, Feminism

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 6/20/2014

Artemisia Gentileschi was a noted Renaissance painter who trained under her father, Orazio Gentileschi, and painted in the Caravaggist style. She is remembered today for the quality of her work and for her determination to succeed in a heavily male-dominated profession. A Woman Like That covers both of these aspects of her life and also captures what her life and work mean to modern day feminists and art historians.

Gentileschi had chutzpah. She traveled widely and campaigned hard for recognition. She stands apart from women painters of that time for the amount of success she realized in her lifetime but it was a world tilted against her. She never achieved recognition on par with the best male painters of the period and because of that, very little is known of the latter part of her life. Art historian Mary Garrard, who wrote a biography of Gentileschi, suggests that her career decline was probably the result of exhaustion after years of struggling.

Gentileschi is also known for having been the victim of a rape perpetrated by her art tutor, and the court case that ensued. With the aid of trial transcripts, the film is effective at contextualizing these events. Since the accused tutor was a married man and the two had a consensual relationship afterward, there is some question about whether the case might have been brought to protect the Gentileschi familyís reputation. The art history scholars in the film suggest that the case is overemphasized in the public awareness of her story and dismiss the notion that it was the defining event of her life.

Itís important to note that the structure of the film isnít one of a conventional biography. It is framed by the filmmakerís confessions of personal angst about doing justice to Gentileschi and frustrations with her own career. Gentileschi serves as a guiding light for her. Unfortunately this part of the narrative isnít compelling and doesnít integrate well with the Gentileschi story.

One technique that does work is the re-enactment of Gentileschi paintings with a class of art students at a Kentucky school. It demonstrates some of the aspects of her painting that distinguished her from her peers. She painted nudes with a kind of realism that was ahead of its time and more unusually depicted women with strength and character Ė qualities that had been neglected in the depiction of women until that time.

The films and videos that exist about Gentileschi focus primarily on her rape so this video is a welcome new addition to the canon. Itís a highly recommended purchase for art libraries and libraries with strong art history and womenís studies collections.