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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2002
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
on August 15, 2002
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
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
on February 7, 2004
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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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2002
I bought this book believing I would really, really love it. I love art, I love Italy, so...what was there not to love?
The Passion of Artemisia is the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, born in Rome in 1593. After the death of her mother, Artemisia was raised by her father, who was himself, an artist. Vreeland tells us that the book is, for the most part, historically accurate, and I have no reason to doubt her veracity. However, the historical portions, the descriptions of the art and the cities, etc., make up the only interesting parts of the book.
When the book opens, Artemisia is a girl of eighteen who stands at the center of a rape trial. Artemisia wants to see justice done, but her father has other ideas and other things on his mind and Artemisia is left ruined and unmarriageable.
Although unmarriageable, Artemisia does wed and only about a year later as well. The union is a relatively happy and peaceful one and her husband, also a painter, takes her to his native Florence where they both pursue their vocation until Artemisia gives birth to a daughter.
When Artemisia clearly proves to be the superior painter, her harmonious relationship she has enjoyed with her husband ends and she eventually leaves him, taking their daughter with her. She travels first to Genoa, then to Rome, then to Naples. She is determined to support both herself and her child as a painter, no matter how much society is against the idea.
Artemisia Gentileschi was a fascinating woman. She was the first woman admitted to the Florentine Academy, she was a woman who lived apart from her husband at a time when living apart from one's husband was virtually unknown. She moved in the same social circles as the Medicis and the other families of the Italian nobility. Artemisia was, as the title of the book, suggests, a passionate woman. So, what is the problem here?
The problem with this book is twofold. First, the character of Artemisia, as painted by Vreeland, is both dull and flat. Instead of giving us a fascinating character, Vreeland seems to be using Artemisia as a vehicle through which to give us her views of the issues of Renaissance Italy. Artemisia "talks" at length about science, art, religion and politics, but her views are not those of a passionate artist, they are the views of someone totally detached from the day-to-day life of the times. Unfortunately, we learn nothing about Artemisia's passion for her art, for her husband, for her child, for her homeland. This is the story of a cold and cerebral woman, not a passionate, life-affirming one. It is only when Artemisia is analyzing the painting of others that she becomes in the least bit interesting as a human being.
The second thing wrong with this book is the poor quality of the writing. The narrative prose is just awful. It is a mystery to me why Vreeland wrote this way and even more of a mystery as to why her editor (or even a first reader) didn't catch (and fix) the problems. Wherever the fault lies, there is simply no excuse to foist bad narrative prose on the book-buying public. It is really unforgiveable.

Artemisia Gentileschi was a fascinating and passionate woman. She certainly deserved better than this.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2002
Vreeland's writing captures the characters and involves the reader with them. I enjoyed reading this book, but was stunned at the contradiction to the reality of Artemesia's life. Although fictionalized biography by definition takes liberties with the subject's life, it makes no sense for example: 1) to portray Artemesia with only one child (she had 4), 2) to portray that daughter with no interest in painting (her surviving daughter was a painter), 3) to have Artemesia return to Rome alone with her daughter (in reality she returned with her husband), 4) to portray Artemesia's marriage as breaking up much earlier than it did in reality. To me these distortions change so much about Artemesia that the book becomes pointless. It puzzles me because Vreeland is a good enough writer to be able to carry a story without contracting essential facts.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 4, 2002
I absolutely loved this book! Having known nothing about Artemisia, I purchased this book because I enjoyed Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Let me tell you, this book is soooo much better!!! Although the book is a work of fiction, I followed the career of Artemisia by printing a collection of her paintings from the internet and followed her career as I read along. It's too bad the book didn't include pictures of her various paintings (similar to Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper)- that would have made the book so much better!!! The story follows Artemesia from the age of 18 when she was raped by her father's friend through her adult hood (about the age of 41). You learn of the various people she met and worked for and how she came to paint the paintings she did. Of course this is Ms. Vreeland's view on how her ideas formed, but they are strong and believable thoughts. My biggest complaint was the book's ending. I found it incomplete and lacking. It needed a more definite ending instead of the one that was published. I was left turning the pages, asking "Is that it?" In spite of its ending, I would highly recommend this book to art lovers, fans of the 17th century, romance readers, readers who enjoy a good moth/daughter relationship. It's all there in these 275+ pages. I anxiously await the next book by Sue Vreeland - after "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" and now the improvement of "Artemeisa", her next book should be even better!!!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2005
As a lover of historical fiction and Renaissance art, I was very excited to read this book. Unfortunately, the writing was far less impressive than the story it told.

The writing falls flat, often failing to capture the imagination, or sometimes even the interest, of the reader. I often found that instead of actually evoking in me a particular emotion, I was told what emotion I was supposed to feel. The writing felt, in a word, superficial. Though there were many opportunities to delve a little deeper into the meat of the characters, the author consistently stopped a few steps short, making the deficiency of emotional substance dismayingly evident.

The novel was certainly not all bad. I became more and more engaged as the book progressed. Though the ending fell a bit flat for me, I found a rather fanciful and compelling story between the less compelling brackets of beginning and end. For the most part, I looked forward to opportunities to read a bit further.

For a brilliant read that succeeds in many ways in which "The Passion of Artemisia" falls short, try Sarah Dunant's "The Birth of Venus".

As a final note, the audiobook version of this novel was a disappointment. The narrator makes each man in the story sound similarly lecherous, unsympathetic, and one-dimensional, precluding an effective conveyance of the emotion and evolving interaction among characters, ultimately compromising the story. Additionally, music was occasionally played in the background, which sometimes impaired the listener's ability to hear all of the narrator's words. Avoid the audiobook of this novel.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This was the first book I had read by Susan Vreeland. Normally, I don't like first person narrative, but this book was wonderfully written. The story of Artemisia is one of betrayal and passion, and the slow realization that reality isn't all that it's cracked up to be. She is forced, by circumstance, to be married to someone she doesn't know. HE can't accept that she is a better painter than he. Artemisia spends the majority of her life trying to reconcile her past to her present and to find a balance between her love of painting and the love of her family.
I would recommend this book to anyone. Not only does it illustrate a period in history that I don't know much about, but it allows the reader to see behind the paintings. The pursuit of art, for art's sake, is a noble venture, and to see the background makes it even more important.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2003
I picked up this book because I had so enjoyed Alexandra LaPierre's novel on the same subject. The book had also received some excellent reviews. However, I was really disappointed. First, the language is trite and Artemisia speaks in cliches. I felt like the narrator was speaking to me on a ninth grade level, which I didn't like. I'm amazed that I finished the novel.
I think more importantly, though, the character of Artemisia really irritated me. Here is this woman who really triumphed over adversity to be a female painter in a time when women didn't do anything besides birth children. However, she plays the helpless victim throughout the novel, and, rather than foster an environment in which her daugher can make her own decisions, she forces the daughter to paint.
The novel is also riddled with historical inaccuracies. After doing some research on Artemisia, these inaccuracies really irked me.
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