Words for International Women’s Day 2021
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman
The jangle of harnesses, the ring of hooves and rumble of carts across cobbles, the shouts in the street beyond the open window fade as her attention shrinks to the vivid, bright blobs of colour in the clay bowl. The chalky smell of the paints she has mixed herself and the smooth wood of the paintbrush in her hand absorbs all her attention.
She moves forward in a slow, graceful dance of arcs and lines, describing a symphony of colours and shapes on the canvas. A line here, a touch of white there and a figure emerges from the darkness, bearing an expression of revulsion and resolve depicted with subtlety and skill. Rich shades of blue on a sleeve pick out soft folds of fabric above a muscular forearm. The artist’s surprisingly small, strong hands are reflected in the painting, where slim fingers clasp a knife firmly against the throat of a terrified man, his features blurred by shadows.
The colours begin to merge with the dark background.
A knock at the door breaks her concentration and she jumps, smudging a careful line of light on fabric.
She sweeps brushes, jars and bottles off the table next to her across the floor and throws a clay jar at the closed door. It shatters. The noise from the street outside invades the room again.
“Artemisia, I’m sorry!”
It is her father.
“I wanted to right the wrong. I would never have asked it of you, had I known what would happen.”
She throws another jar.
“You did not ask! You went ahead and I had to go to trial! I was made to go to Court and when his guilt was clear and he was exiled, for all his crimes, the one against me just one of them,” a clatter of flung clay shards crashed to the floor, mixing with an explosion of paint. “He,” another jar shatters against the door, “Did not,” a pot this time, “Leave!” A knife skitters along the wooden floorboards like a rat.
“Artemisia, please!” Orazio Gentileschi knows he can never put this right.
She hears a sob catch in his throat and the sound of his body sliding down the other side of the door as he hunches at the top of the stairs.
She puts down the last intact pot carefully with shaking hands, her breath hot in her throat. Her feet take her to the door, where she slumps down, her head in her hands, the paint on her fingers striping her hair.
“I will not allow this to shape my life.” She puts her hand up to stroke the smooth grain of the wood that separates them. “I will go to Florence. I will marry your young friend.” She puts her hands to the floor. “Only because I cannot go alone. But that is the last concession I will make.”
She stands and returns to her study of Judith beheading Holofernes.
A new writer, Kate Leimer enjoys stories of all kinds. She has stories in ‘Hysteria 7 Anthology’, edited by Linda Parkinson-Hardman, ‘The Wondrous Real Magazine’, ‘Fudoki Magazine’ and TL;DR Press ‘Hope’. She has a BA in History and English Literature. When not writing, she works in a library. She tweets as @hollypook
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman by Kate Leimer finds inspiration in the life of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) was the first woman accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing). Her paintings celebrate women.
She was highly influential, yet she is missed from some art history books and I was unaware of just how much she had overcome to achieve her success before I did a little research and discovered the incidents which prompted this story.