Artemisia is the story of a young, free-spirited girl who showed a talent and passion for painting in a time that art was something that only men created. Born the daughter of a well-known Italian artist of the time, she was encouraged to paint by her father by working in his studio and helping him with his commissions. When a colleague shows up to assist on a commission, a Florentine painter named Agostino Tassi, Artemisia’s father persuades him to tutor her. A more unconventional artist than his contemporaries, Tassi helps Artemisia unlock her passions for art and for him. The two begin an affair of sensuality and passion that feeds their art. Unfortunately, their love is discovered and Tassi is brought up on charges of rape. In the end, the two are driven apart: Tassi is imprisoned and Artemisia leaves her family home to continue her art, never to see her lover again.
This movie is a highly romanticized depiction of love, sensuality and artistic form. The events of the movie are based on the real-life Artemisia Gentileschi, but the historical figure and the character from the movie, upon doing some research, seem to be two different people. While the movie depicts Artemisia and Agostino to have fallen passionately in love with one another in their mutual passion for painting, historical documents show that Tassi actually raped Artemisia and continued to have sexual relations with her based on the promise that he would marry her. In fact, Tassi had an amount of disdain for her art as he was teaching her simple things about art such as perspective (which is depicted in the movie as a sensual, eye-opening experience between the two lovers.)
Being highly romantic, the movie seems to focus on the dichotomy of Artemisa’s world, namely Italy of the early 17th century. As this time period was one in which only a handful of women were working in the artistic world, Artemisia is depicted as a young, passionate girl, still innocent of the pains of love and sensuality, but having them within her. She is often dressed either in bright (tangerine) colored clothing that is full and flowing or as the only person in the scene wearing color while everyone else is dark and drab. Tassi himself wears more conventionally covering dress but like Artemisia has unkempt and uncovered hair that is unruly in the open air seeming to show his eccentricities and artistic passion. Even the maidservants appear more sedate and confined than these two. By contrast the nobility that commissions Artemisia’s father wear very confining, prudential. The same members of society are seen later in the courtroom scenes of Tassi’s trial to be wearing all black and dark colored clothing, exposing them as the oppressors to the artistic lovers. Interestingly, it is Artemisia’s father that seems to navigate both worlds: his wardrobe is simple and presentationally conservative in public yet he paints with a smock thrown over his attire that is loose and gauzy. I think that as the style of the film goes, the costumes are appropriate. Artemisia is shown to be youthful, wild and passionate while those around her seem old and confined. Tassi who starts out with a repressed, angry demeanor becomes more passionate and even naked in the love of Artemisia. The “upstanding” members of society that wish to separate the two lovers are confined in their expensive clothing that is boned, stiff, ruffed, tied tight, and form fitting. I found the most interesting use of costume is the rape scene and the scene just before. Artemisia has been wearing predominantly white in her encounters with Tassi. On the visit to him when they have sex for the first time, she is wearing a brown and golden dress that makes her look so dirty when she runs away from the encounter and returns home.
While I think that the costume selections appealed to the romantic nature of the film, I didn’t get that they were altogether appropriate for the era covered. Artemisia is based on a true story about a real woman living in Rome during the early 17th century. The clothing discrepancies appeared to cover well into the century before or of geographic locations that were not Italian. Artemisia is shown to have started in a convent wearing the simple confining and unrevealing attire of that situation. When we next see her (after having left the convent) she is wearing a dress that, though blue when everyone else is wearing brown and grays, seems reminiscent of an English peasant girl of the English Renaissance. We see her again later in a scene eating with an upper class family. While the matriarch is dressed to the hilt of her station, Artemisia has out-dressed her by wearing a brightly colored (what I call tangerine) dress. The matriarch’s dress appears to have come from northern Europe from almost 40-60 years before while Artemisia’s dress actually follows a style that can be attributed the styles of the romantic paintings of artists of the time (like Caravaggio whose art influenced Artemisia’s work). The dress seems to have strong influence of traditional gypsy costume that, while romantic, I can’t envision the real Artemisia getting away with it in such an atmosphere.