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Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Key facts
Full title Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Artist Artemisia Gentileschi
Artist dates 1593 - 1654 or later
Date made about 1615-17
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 71.4 × 69 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund (through the legacy of Sir Denis Mahon), Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, Hannah Rothschild CBE, Mrs Mollie W. Vickers, the Hon. Mrs Ashley Dawson-Damer, The Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust Fund, Mr Andrew Green QC and Ms Hirschl, Mr Matthew Santos and Mrs Mary Kuusisto, Mr Peter Scott CBE QC and Dr Richard Ballantine, the Diane Apostolos-Cappadona Trust, Mr Stephen Allcock, Mr James and Lady Emma Barnard, Miss Maxine White and Mr James Mortimer, Michael and Felicia Crystal, The W T J Griffin Charitable Settlement and other donors including those who wish to remain anonymous, 2018
Inventory number NG6671
Location On loan: National Treasures, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK
Collection Main Collection
Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the seventeenth century, appears in the guise of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian saint martyred in the early fourth century. She leans on a broken wheel studded with iron spikes, to which she was bound and tortured, and which became her standard attribute in art. Her right hand, delicately holding a martyr’s palm between thumb and forefinger, is brought to her chest.

The saint is portrayed as resilient, having endured torture – as indeed the artist herself did during the trial following her rape at the age of 17 by the painter Agostino Tassi. After the trial Artemisia moved from Rome to Florence, where this painting was probably made. She seems to have used her own image frequently in works she produced in Florence – a number of self portraits are known and others are recorded in seventeenth-century inventories. New to the city and keen to demonstrate her talent, she may have painted such pictures in a conscious act of self-promotion.

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