Short courses


Artemisia in Fiction and Fact

  • 10 hours
  • 5 evenings (6:30pm to 8:30pm) - over 5 weeks


The course examines the life, art and afterlives of the baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 to ?1653), the first woman to gain admission to the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence.

By analysing three novels and a film inspired by her life and work, you'll explore the reasons for the fascination this painter has exercised at different times.

By distinguishing between the documented facts about her life and the interpretations it inspired, the course aims to highlight:

  • the artistry and originality of her paintings
  • her achievement as a professional painter
  • her entrepreneurial spirit as the maestro of a painting school in a male-dominated profession.

Sessions will be held on Wednesday evenings, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, over 5 weeks. You can book all five sessions, or individual weeks.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this course will be delivered online.

This course is run by UCL's School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS).


Artemisia had a successful career in Florence, Rome, Naples (where she opened her own school) and London. However, her work and that of her father and teacher Orazio and all of Caravaggio’s followers was then neglected for three centuries. They were rediscovered in the 1940s by the art historian Roberto Longhi.

In 1947 Longhi’s wife, the feminist art historian Anna Banti, published the novel Artemisia. This work was translated into English in 1985 and rekindled interest in the painter’s life as much as in her work. It's one of the three novels you'll study on this course.

You'll also follow Artemisia’s transformation into a feminist icon during the 1970s and the controversy inspired by the 1997 film Artemisia, of which she's protagonist. This film gives a much-disputed account of her rape by, and liaison with, the painter Agostino Tassi. This episode overshadowed Artemisia’s life and risks influencing the evaluation of her work to this day.

It was only in 1991 that the first monographic exhibition on Artemisia Gentileschi at Casa Buonarroti, Florence, highlighted her status as a protagonist of the Caravaggesque revolution.

Who this course is for

This course is open to anyone with an interest in Italian art, Renaissance and Baroque art, Artemisia Gentileschi’s oeuvre, or art fiction.

There are no prerequisites for attending this course.

Course content and structure

The course consists of five weekly two-hour sessions. These will involve lectures and group discussions, and the final session will include a visit to the new exhibition of Artemisia’s work at The National Gallery 

Session 1

  • Introduction: Artemisia in the news
  • Caravaggism and Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Overview of Artemisia’s art, life and career

Session 2

  • Gentileschi, Padre e Figlia: the rediscovery by Roberto Longhi
  • Anna Banti’s 1947 novel Artemisia
  • The documents of the rape trial

Session 3

  • Roland Barthes’s interpretation of Artemisia’s painting Judith Slaying Holofernes
  • Feminist interpretation of Artemisia’s life and work
  • Romantic interpretation: the 1997 film Artemisia and the following controversy

Session 4

  • Alexandra Lapierre’s novel Artemisia. The Story of a Battle for Greatness
  • Susan Vreeland’s novel The Passion of Artemisia

Session 5

  • Conclusion: Historical and artistic significance of the figure of Artemisia as a painter and as a woman artist 
  • Visit to The National Gallery

Learning outcomes 

This course will help you understand what Artemisia’s paintings are about. You'll also learn how and why she rejects or complies with the painting conventions of her time in her choice of subjects and technique. 

Course team

Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri-Rosta

Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri-Rosta

Maria-Novella is a Teaching Fellow in Italian and European Cultural Studies. She holds an MPhil in English Literature from the University of Florence, Italy, an MA in Philosophy and a PhD in German Studies from UCL, and an MA in Renaissance Studies from Birkbeck College. She's been teaching in higher education for more than two decades, mostly at UCL. 

Course information last modified: 27 May 2020, 09:13