When it comes to women in the visual arts, there are a lot of names that may come to mind. But one of the characteristics many popular female artists have in common, whether Georgia O’Keeffe or Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner or Frida Kahlo, is that many of them lived and worked in the modern era. However, the one who paved the way for all of them lived centuries ago. Artemisia Gentileschi is considered one of the greatest Italian artists of the seventeenth century. She is mainly known today for her scenes of women’s empowerment from the Bible, classical mythology, and history. Judith, Bathsheba, and Cleopatra have all been given Gentileschi’s shadow-cloaked treatment at one point or another. And now, Italian authorities have recently intercepted one of her paintings about to be shipped off to Austria for auction.
Rather than showing a famous woman, real or fictional, the painting Caritas Romana has a more allegorical subject. Meaning Roman Charity in Latin, the work shows the story of a woman breastfeeding her father after he is sentenced to death by starvation. While the story has been popular in the visual arts since the ancient period, the subject was particularly popular in the seventeenth century. In addition to Gentileschi, other Renaissance and Baroque masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Pieter van Mol have created their own renditions of the subject. For years, the Gentileschi Caritas Romana was thought to have been created by one of her students or followers. However, Italy’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit has been investigating the work for around two years. The painting’s owners, it seems, planned on selling the work at an auction house in Vienna, trying to circumvent Italian cultural heritage and customs authorities by deliberately withholding relevant historical documentation. The Cultural Heritage Protection Unit has stated that the work is worth around €2 million.