Written by Susan Vreeland
Published by Viking
Review by Tillie Charles
Those who loved Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the story of a Vermeer painting that transformed the lives of its owners, will also love Susan Vreeland’s next art-inspired novel, The Passion of Artemesia. This is the story of Artemesia Gentileschi, the first woman to make an important contribution to art history.
As a young woman, Artemesia is raped by her painting teacher, and when her father would not stand up for her honor under pressure, she marries an artist, leaves Rome and heads to Florence. There, she discovers the great painting talent she possesses, and she finds herself struggling between her insatiable need to paint and create and her responsibilities as wife and mother. Artemesia lives in Renaissance Italy in a time when women are not recognized as artists. Artemesia is blessed with a talent that she must struggle to have recognized. And she continues to struggle with her relationship with the father who bitterly disappointed her when she needed him most. As she interacts with real-life characters such as Cosimo de Medici and Galileo, Artemesia learns about the responsibilities that come with great talent. She comes to grips with her dreams for her own life even if they stand outside the norm of what was expected of women then.
I could relate well to Artemesia’s difficulties as she tries to be true to her own calling. Even in this day and age women have to make difficult choices. How much of my own dream do I pursue? How much of myself do I have to give away to others? By following Artemesia as she struggles her way from self-questioning to self-understanding, even finding peace with the father who first inspired her art when she was young, my own struggles as a woman were made more clear. We have come far, we women, when it comes to the freedom to live our lives on our own terms. Still, we struggle to be Superwoman, Supermom, and hope that we can be ourselves while we are constantly being tugged in many directions. In Artemesia we see how far we have come and how far we still have to go to be completely free.
Tillie Charles is a graduate student at UCLA. She is studying history and literature while writing her first historical novel about the early days of the Old West.