Gentileschi & Velazquez: Status in the Art World

Both Artemesia Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting and Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas send a message to the viewer about their role as a painter in society.[i] [ii] For each of them, it’s clear they wanted to portray their respective status and that they were talented and well-connected.[iii] [iv]

For example, in Gentileschi’s self-portrait, it is quite evident from the title what she was insinuating. Gentileschi depicts herself with “attributes of the female personification of Painting as set forth in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia.”[v] These attributes include her necklace, her hairstyle and drappo cangiante, which, respectively, represent imitation, the “divine frenzy of the artistic temperament,” and her skills as a painter.[vi] I would argue Gentileschi did this on purpose. Since painting has historically tended to be personified in writing and in art as a female (i.e. as Ripa’s idea of Pittura), a male painter could not have rendered anything like it, thus solidifying her portrayal of her skill as a painter and her place in the art world within society.[vii]

Gentileschi portrayed herself as the literal personification of painting as an art form to show that she was an extremely talented artist and there was nothing to be ashamed of as an artist.[viii] She makes a statement with her piece that, in fact, one should be proud to be an artist, and that there can be stirring intellectual connections and references that can be made in paintings.[ix] This was a bold and incredibly smart move.

I found it compelling that Mary Garrard even references Velazquez’s painting in the conclusion portion of her academic analysis on Gentileschi’s self-portrait, stating that it was a later, arguably more complex rendering of the same idea.[x] However, I found a slight difference between Gentileschi and Velazquez’s paintings in their reasoning behind their motive in Garrard’s analysis: “By embodying the abstract allegory in realistic human form, [Gentileschi] suggests that the worth of the art of painting derives neither from association with royalty nor from theoretical pretensions, but from the simple business of the artist doing her work, and further, that in this unimpeded performance, theoretical obstacles evaporate.”[xi] In contrast, Velazquez certainly uses this painting to show off his intimate relationship with the royal family.[xii] He, in contrast, seemed to feel the need to portray himself as an artist in the company of the royal family in order to raise the status of the art of painting, if not to insinuate the nobility of it.[xiii]

This public display of status seems to have another underlying motive: “his long-unfulfilled ambition to achieve the aristocratic rank of membership in a military order.”[xiv] After many trials and tribulations trying to get accepted into a military order throughout Velazquez’s life, the King finally gave his blessing for Velazquez to be admitted into the Order of Santiago, one of Spain’s military orders.[xv] However, the Order had other plans. They did everything they could to block Velazquez out.[xvi] Finally, eight months before his death, he overcame every one of the obstacles to become a Knight of Santiago.[xvii] This is significant because during this time of frustration with the process of becoming a part of the Order and being blocked at every turn, Velazquez painted Las Meninas to show his credibility, aristocracy and skill.[xviii] This closely relates to Gentileschi’s motive for painting her self-portrait. Therefore, based on these findings, it is a compelling argument that although the reasons behind the motive differed, Gentileschi and Velazquez both had the same idea: to portray themselves as an allegory for art in Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting and Las Meninas, respectively, in order to gain a higher status in society.

self-portrait-as-the-allegory-of-painting-1639

Artist Artemisia Gentileschi
Year 1638–39
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.5 cm × 73.7 cm (38.0 in × 29.0 in)
Owner Royal Collection
Accession RCIN 405551

THE HOUSEHOLD OF PHILIP IV or LAS MENINAS by Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo (c1612-15-1667) after Diego Velazquez (1599 - 1660), at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Artist Diego Velázquez
Year 1656
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

[i] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109-110. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[ii] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 227. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[iii] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109-110. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[iv] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 227. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[v] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 97. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[vi]Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 97. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[vii] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 97. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[viii] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109-110. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[ix] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[x] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[xi] Garrard, Mary D. “Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 62, no. 1 (1980): 109. doi:10.2307/3049963.

[xii] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 225. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xiii] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 240. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xiv] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 227. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xv] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 241. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xvi] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 241. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xvii] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 241. doi:10.2307/3049372.

[xviii] Kahr, Madlyn Millner. “Velázquez and Las Meninas.” The Art Bulletin 57, no. 2 (1975): 241. doi:10.2307/3049372.

 

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