Short courses


Artemisia in Fiction and Fact

  • 10 hours
  • 5 sessions


The course examines the life, art and afterlives of the baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 - 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. 

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. Translated into English in 1985, the novel rekindled interest in the painter’s life as much as in her work and is 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

There are no prerequisites for attending this course.

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

Course content and structure

The course consists of five sessions of one and a half hour including lectures and discussion.

Session 1

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

Session 2

  • Caravaggism and the Gentileschis
  • Gentileschi, Padre e Figlia: the rediscovery by Roberto Longhi

Session 3

  • Anna Banti’s 1947 novel Artemisia
  • Interpretations of Artemisia’s painting Judith Slaying Holofernes

Session 4

  • Alexandra Lapierre’s novel Artemisia. The Story of a Battle for Greatness
  • Documents of the trial

Session 5

  • Susan Vreeland’s novel The Passion of Artemisia
  • Agnes Merlet’s film Artemisia
  • Artemisia’s own voice: Acts of the Trial and Letters

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.

Further information


  • Banti, Anna. 1988. Artemisia. Trans. Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press). (Rep. Serpent’s Tail, 2004). 
  • Lapierre, Alexandra. 2001. Artemisia. The Story of a Battle for Greatness. Trans. Liz Heron. (London: Vintage). 
  • Straussman-Pflanzen, Eve. 2013. Violence and Virtue : Artemisia Gentileschi's ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’. (Yale University Press). 
  • Vreeland, Shirley. 2002. The Passion of Artemisia. (London: Headline Book Publishing). 


  • ‘Artemisia’ (dir. Agnés Merlet; France/Germany/Italy 1997); (98 minutes) 

Course team

Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri

Dr Maria-Novella Mercuri

Maria-Novella is a Lecturer (Teaching) in Comparative Literature and Anglo-American 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: 2 Jan 2024, 10:29