- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

Washington artist Judy Jashinsky has painted the life of legendary Italian Renaissance-baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi for more than five years.
Miss Jashinsky sums up her obsessive and remarkable pursuit in the exhibit "Artemisia Gentileschi: An Artist's Life" at McLean Project for the Arts.
The show contains 150 paintings and drawing installations that evoke Gentileschi's experiences as a 17th-century woman and painter in Rome, Florence, Naples and London.
Gentileschi, who has become the darling of feminist artists, competed with the top painters of her time. She was the only woman admitted to the Academy of Design in Florence, through which she culled commissions.
"She aggressively modeled her style upon the most contemporary trends around her, modifying it freely to accommodate personal or local tastes, moving from Roman Caravaggism, to exaggerated 'fiorentinita,' to Caravaggism again, and to Neopolitan classicism, with a dazzling virtuosity equalled by few male contemporaries," American University art history professor Mary D. Garrard writes in her book "Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art."
Historians neglected Gentileschi's work for many years and often confused it with that of her noted painter father, Orazio..
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will display works by both Gentileschis in the exhibit "Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy" beginning Feb. 14. The show is the first to treat the artists in depth and will display approximately 50 works by Orazio and 35 by Artemisia.
Miss Jashinsky first heard about the neglected artist in a 1989 National Gallery of Art lecture by Miss Garrard. The local artist was interested but put the subject aside until her studio burned in 1995 and she lost all her work.
Miss Jashinsky says that at the time, she identified with Gentileschi's anguish and decided to go to Rome and research the painter's life. After that, she was hooked.
Gentileschi gained notoriety when she was 19 and her father accused his friend Agostino Tassi, who was teaching Artemisia perspective, of stalking and raping her. Orazio filed a lawsuit "for devaluation of property."
Tassi eventually was convicted after a long rape trial and imprisoned for eight months, but charges later were dismissed. Artemisia was married off to try to salvage her reputation. A few years later, she left her husband.
Scenes of her pain, suffering and triumphs run through the show. These include a rumpled bed, the scene of a rape.
The first images are the "Roman Fever" series, luminous Iris prints that Washington printer David Adamson created from drawings Miss Jashinsky did in Rome in 1997 and 1998. She had taken tall, narrow panels for studies and found the proportions perfect for picturing Gentileschi in Rome's narrow streets.
All are night scenes and have the same eerie luminosity of James Abbott McNeill Whistler's sensational "Nocturnes" of the 1870s. In the "Piazza di S. Maggiore," Miss Jashinsky places the viewer in Gentileschi's shoes as the Roman looks up at the dramatically high Column of Marcus Aurelius monument.
The images represent the lunar cycle of 28 days that was the particular orbit when Gentileschi was introduced to Tassi and the subsequent events took place.
"I see them as places of contemplation where she tried to deal with her predicament," Miss Jashinsky writes in the "Roman Fever" portfolio statement. "She was wrestling with questions such as, Would he marry her as promised? Did she care for him? Was she pregnant? What would her father think?"
Miss Jashinsky recently painted the partly imaginary "Cenci Execution" to depict the brutality of the times, especially for women. The 15-foot-long work, a 28-panel gesso-and-pastel on paper, shows Roman citizens coming to see the severed heads of Beatrice Cenci and her mother, Lucrezia. Roman authorities condemned the pair to death in 1599 for killing the husband-father who had abused them for years. The painter shows a tiny Artemesia clutching her father's tunic and reaching for Caravaggio, who follows behind. (Washington artist Lars Torres was the model for Caravaggio.)
"The Cenci Execution" was a barbaric event that Artemisia could have witnessed. No historic documentation exists, but it doesn't matter. The work is a tour de force that greatly enhances the Gentileschi narrative.
The presence of sex and death in the show is irresistible. The artist Helen Frankenthaler has written, "Many artists, ironically since they are dealing with production and creativity with life have a special relationship to death. Some profound fear of dying. The positive side of this, for an artist, is here: The artists who survive have an appealing magical energy."
Gentileschi had this energy.
Miss Jashinsky herself remembers the "death" she experienced with the loss of her paintings. At the end of 1999, in the middle of the Gentileschi project, Miss Jashinsky also received a diagnosis of breast cancer. She says she now is free of the disease.
An emotionally moving coda to the show is Miss Jashinsky's imaginary section "The Lost Letters of Artemisia Gentileschi." She collaborated on it with writer Katherine Smith and artist-calligrapher Rose Folsom.
Because so little is known about the end of Gentileshi's life (she was born in 1593 and died in 1652 or 1653), Miss Jashinsky created a fictional letter in which the artist asks her painter-daughter to come to Naples and help her because she is ill and continues to paint for money to pay for her treatment.
By then, the viewers are so caught up in the story, they want to know what happens next. (An accompanying video, to be shown during the Metropolitan Museum exhibit in New York, also relates the tale).
In the McLean show, Miss Jashinsky has become the artist-conjurer of primitive times who transports modern viewers into an imaginary, primal world. It's one that fascinates and intrigues.WHAT: "Artemisia Gentileschi: An Artist's Life"
McLean Project for the Arts, the second floor of the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays, through March 2

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