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The Passion of Artemisia: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, December 31, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Like her bestselling debut, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland's second novel, The Passion of Artemisia, traces a particular painting through time: in this case, the post-Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi's violent masterpiece, "Judith." Although the novel purports to cover the life of the painter, the painting serves as a touchstone, foreshadowing Artemisia's rape by Agostino Tassi, an assistant in her father's painting studio in Rome; the well-documented (and humiliating) trial that followed; the early days of her hastily arranged marriage; and her eventual triumph as the first woman elected to the Accademia dell' Arte in Florence. Although Vreeland makes a bit free with her characters (which she admits in her introduction), attributing some decidedly modern attitudes to people who would not have thought that way at the time, her book is beautifully researched and rich with casual detail of clothing, interiors, and street life. She deftly works history and politics into the background of her canvas, keeping her focus on Artemisia and her family. Beyond the paintings Artemisia left behind, Vreeland's vision may be as close as we can come to understanding the anger and ambition that kept this talented woman at the doors of the Accademia, demanding entrance, in a time when respectable women rarely left their homes. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Vreeland follows up the success of Girl in Hyacinth Blue with another novel delving into the themes of art, history and the lives of women. Narrated in the wise, candid first-person voice of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), the novel tells the story of Gentileschi's life and career in Renaissance Italy. Publicly humiliated and scorned in Rome after her participation as defendant in a rape trial in which the accused is her painting teacher (and father's friend) Agostino Tassi, Artemisia accepts a hastily arranged marriage at the age of 18 to Pietro Stiatessi, an artist in Florence. Her marriage, while not a love match, proves at first to be affectionate, and the arrival of a daughter, Palmira, strengthens the bond with her husband. But rifts soon develop as Artemisia begins to have some success: she wins the patronage of the Medicis and is the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell'Arte before her husband. Studio and home become the battlefields of Artemisia's life, and Vreeland chronicles 20 years of the painter's struggles while raising her daughter alone. Details and visuals abound in the book; readers who loved the painterly descriptions of Girl will be spellbound in particular by the scenes in which Artemisia is shown at work. While some threads in the story are frustratingly dropped and the narrative concludes before the end of Artemisia's life, the underlying themes of familial and artistic reconciliation are satisfyingly developed. Forthright and imaginative, Vreeland's deft recreation ably showcases art and life. Agent, Barbara Braun. (Jan. 14)Forecast: Fans of Girl in Hyacinth Blue will be pleased with The Passion of Artemisia, which reprises many of the themes of its predecessor. Published to coincide with an exhibition of the works of Gentileschi and her father in New York City and St. Louis, the book will also be promoted by Vreeland's 12-city author tour, and has been named Book Sense's #1 pick for January/February. Expect happy sales. Rights sold in Denmark, England, Finland and Germany.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; First Edition edition (December 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001820
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.9 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Vreeland's short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Missouri Review, Confrontation, New England Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her first novel, What Love Sees, was made into a CBS Sunday Night Movie. She teaches English literature and Art in San Diego public schools.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Sheri Melnick on January 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As the best-selling author of GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, Susan Vreeland once again stuns readers with a lyrical depiction of a woman destined to follow her artistic dreams. As an early seventeenth century artist under the tutelage of her artist father, Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia experiences tremendous humiliation as she faces her rapist in papal court. Though Agostino Tassi, a colleague of Orazio�s, had raped Artemisia, she is forced to endure a degrading public examination to prove her accusations. With her ruined reputation, Artemisia leaves Rome to wed Pietro Stiattesi and move to Florence.
Together, Pietro and Artemisia indulge in the art of painting, but unfortunately for Pietro, it is Artemisia who gets the most recognition, first with a commission from the nephew of the famous Michelangelo, and later from Cosimo de Medici. Though Artemisia and Pietro have a daughter, Palmira, Pietro becomes resentful when Artemisia gains admission to the Accademia dell� Arte del Disegno before he does.
The all-encompassing descriptive prose leads the reader back into seventeenth century Italy, following Artemisia and her daughter as they journey to Genoa, Venice, and come full circle back to Rome. With the incredible artistic backdrop of the timeless treasures of these cities, the author often makes a religious connection to the magnificent works depicted there.
And for anyone who ever wanted an eyewitness view into an artist�s soul, this novel is the perfect venue. Even a non-artist can begin to understand the depth of emotion and lifetime experiences that go into an artist�s creativity. Most enduring though, is Artemisia�s triumph in a time when women were treated in a most inferior manner.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Diane on August 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I had never heard of Artemisia Gentileschi until I opened this book. I realize that it is a fictitious account of her life, but it made for an interesting read.
Set in the 17th century, the story opens with Artemisia having been raped by her father's assistant, Agostino Tassi. Her father has accused him of this rape and sets into motion a trial that will continue to haunt Artemisia for the rest of her days. The rapist is released and Artemisia, her reputation ruined, is forced into an arranged marriage.
She begins to paint her collection, most notably her "Judith" collection. Her art becomes famous with the most renowned people of her day. She portrays the women in her paintings as strong and independent, retribution being the key. I found Vreeland's account of how the paintings came about and why to be extremely interesting. Artemisia soon becomes the first woman to be accepted into the Academy of Sciences in Florence and this causes a rift in her marriage.
The people along the way are also wonderful characters brought to life, especially Graziela who is wise beyond her years and helps to put things into perspective for Artemisia. Her passion for painting brought her the utmost joy and pain. A lesson not lost on Artemisia.
I was so fascinated by Artemisia's story that I looked on the internet for her paintings and was not disappointed. I discovered a few inconsistencies in the story and the real life of this painter, but overall I think the book is worth the read.
Another book similar in theme to this one is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In "The Passion of Artemisia," Susan Vreeland does a great job providing her readers with details of seventeenth century Italy. Her descriptions of food (dates, almonds, pear wedges, bread, olive oil, saffron, antipasti), clothes (gowns, quilted doublets, embroidered bodices), and Italy itself (Rome, Florence, Genoa, and Naples) are wonderful. I could not get enough of the twisted alleyways, the villas, the references to historical characters (Galileo, Cosimo de' Medici II), and of course the paintings. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the story itself. Told in the first person narrative, Artemisia is a somewhat flat character -- Susan Vreeland is unable to convey the passion and courage that drove Artemisia to pursue her dream of becoming a famous painter.
"Girl In Hyacinth Blue" sparkled. It was clever, intelligent -- a little gem. "The Passion of Artemisia," on the other hand, is entertaining (the Italian words scattered throughout the novel were just plain fun: bene, brava, tesoro, poverina, la dolce vita). It depicts details from seventeenth century Italy marvelously (the reason for the three star rating), but ultimately, it does not deliver the dramatic tale about a woman who ignored the social mores of her time.
If you enjoy fiction published about art, history, and the lives of women consider reading: "Tulip Fever" by Deborah Moggach and "Girl With A Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book may be fascinating, but is it not nearly as fascinating as the real story. I thought Vreeland gave us a rather flimsy tale, and decided to give a more scholarly work a try. And after all, what can one expect without historical records of the time? Well, turns out one can expect a lot, and there were a lot of records. What they tell is a very different story from that Vreeland gives us. In fact, her version omits many astonishing details, and really misrepresents Artemisia's life for cliches and trite dramatic purposes. The real story -- skillfully presented by Alexandra Lapierre (translated by Liz Heron) in Artemisia: A Novel -- does our Artemisia justice.
What I can't figure out is why would someone take a really rich and lively story and water it down for a series of vignettes, when the true story is one ripping read? Although Lapierre entitles her work "A Novel", she refers to her primary sources -- and she expounds on the manners of the day -- to make a vibrant portrait. I felt more than disappointed by this version when I read Lapierre's - I felt betrayed. This is one author who will not get a second chance.
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