The Passion of Artemisia: A Novel

The Passion of Artemisia - Susan Vreeland I will most definitely read this book again. It provokes far too many questions for a single reading. Can a woman be both a mother and an artist, without sacrificing the one to the glory of the other? Which is more truly the artist's child, the one of flesh and blood that cares nothing for art, or the stranger who drinks deeply from the artist's inspiration? When a parent sacrifices his child for the sake of his art, what damage does it create? What beauties can grow from the ashes? Vreeland's portrayal of Artemisia Gentileschi is breathtaking. Like Artemisia's own paintings, it's the very flaws in the subject that create much of the beauty. Artemisia is shuffled this way and that by the actions of others: her rapist, her father, her husband, but she is also strong enough to take her own actions and make the best life she can with what she is given. She has determination, ingenuity and, above everything, the need to paint and the knowledge that her work will make a mark on the world. Even as she sets out to make that mark, the world is changing. Galileo Galilei, Artemisia's acquaintance and then friend, has discovered the moons of Jupiter and the spots on the sun. The Earth is not the centre of the universe, man is not in the centre of God's vision. Artemisia, through her life, struggles to accept that her mark on the world may be no more than "a touch of color at the edge of a painting, contributing to the whole but unnoticed by most". With all the buffeting Artemisia endures by their hands, it would be easy for Vreeland to make men the villains in this novel, but she has resisted the temptation. There are good men and bad, loving women and hating ones. The men who affect Artemisia's life take actions, some of which they regret, some of which they don't, but Vreeland sympathetically shows their motivations and leaves us, like Artemisia, to forgive or not, as we choose. Like all of us, they do not foresee all the consequences of their actions and tragic things happen while they sit down to breakfast. But The Passion of Artemisia is not all shadows. There are moments of pure joy, of knowing that one is part of something so grand, so elaborate, that one can hardly grasp its scope. In such a passage, Vreeland writes in Artemisia's voice:"I fell asleep thinking of the incomprehensible, baffling order of the universe that kept the planets in their courses, birds in flight, and towers from tumbling down. In this universe where I knew now we were not the center, where I was as insignificant and unremarkable as a grain of salt seen from a tower, God still allowed me to take my next breath."A book to be treasured and studied. Like a fine painting, looking closely at the details shows more clearly the beauty of the whole.