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Fierce Women: Artemisia Gentileschi and the Women Worthies


Extraordinary Women of Myth and History Focus of Nelson-Atkins Exhibition

Kansas City, MO. Feb 14, 2022–A focus exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City offers dramatic insight into the representation of female role models from 1480s to 1720s Europe. Fierce Women: Artemisia Gentileschi and the Women Worthies opens Feb. 25 and has, as its centerpiece, a monumental painting by female artist Artemisia Gentileschi on special loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“The rise of women rulers across Europe in the 1600s contributed to the tremendous popularity of strong female subjects in art,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Patrons commissioning work at that time were no doubt drawn to Gentileschi’s rare status as a successful woman artist who was working in what was then a man’s world.”

Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of HolofernesJudith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes depicts one moment from the biblical story of Judith, who beheaded the general of an invading army to save her city.

Considered one of the most accomplished artists of the Baroque era, Artemisia Gentileschi was known for painting women with exceptional fortitude and vulnerability, including Judith, Esther, and Susanna, among others, who take center stage in this presentation.

“As a gifted storyteller, Gentileschi created incredibly powerful works from a female perspective, getting under the skin of her subjects and putting their emotions and experiences to canvas,” said Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Senior Curator, European Arts and curator of this exhibition. “She represented fierce women throughout her career, highlighting their intelligence, courage, and mortality, in a way many of her peers could not.”

The exhibition highlights “women worthies”, a group of heroines with remarkable intellectual, civic, military, and moral accomplishments. These women came from Jewish, Christian, and ancient mythological stories, which artists and writers shared across Europe starting in the 1300s. They became public role models for women’s behavior, offering striking examples of female capabilities. The examples of women worthies in the exhibition in prints, drawings, and decorative arts, include Biblical characters (Judith, Esther, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene) and Christian martyrs (St. Catherine and St. Cecilia). Artemisia Gentileschi represented all these popular subjects in her work, as did many other artists from the period.

Fierce Women: Artemisia Gentileschi and the Women Worthies closes July 23.

Programming in conjunction with this exhibition:

Lecture: The Wide World of Italian Women Artists: Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Cohort
March 30, 6 PM, Atkins Auditorium

Artemisia Gentileschi is the most famous woman artist of her period; however, before and after her, there were dozens of other Italian women who worked as artists. Their stories are both instructive and, at times, scintillating.

Join Dr. Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, Curator and Head of Italian and Spanish Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, for this lecture on Gentileschi and her groundbreaking career, including the magisterial Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes.

Book Discussion: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Saturday, April 1, 11 AM, Library Reading Room

Join curator Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, the Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Senior Curator of European Arts, and Spencer Art Reference Library staff Amelia Nelson and Stephanie Lawrence, in a discussion of Joy McCullough’s book Blood Water Paint. McCullough’s young adult novel is a fictionalized story of famed Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. The novel explores Artemisia’s struggle to live as an artist, her experience of sexual assault, the resulting trial, and how these experiences impact her unique empathy for the women whose stories she paints.

The novel Blood Water Paint includes mention of sexual assault. Like many people throughout history and today, Artemisia Gentileschi’s personal story was informed by experience with sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor or a supporter of a survivor and you need help in Kansas City, we encourage you to reach out to MOCSA (Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault) mocsa.org/ A representative from MOCSA will be able to join the book discussion.

Image credits: Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian (1593 – after 1654). Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, ca.1623-1625, Oil on canvas, 73 11/16 × 55 7/8 × 1 5/16 inches. Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mr. Leslie H. Green, 52.253.

This focus exhibition is organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The museum opens its doors free of charge to people of all backgrounds.

The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the Museum is a key educational resource for the region. In 2017, the Nelson-Atkins celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Bloch Building, a critically acclaimed addition to the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Friday through Monday; 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.

For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art