One of the first adult works of historical fiction that I ever read was Susan Vreeland's THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA. So, naturally, when I saw that a graphic novel biography of Artemisia Gentileschi was coming out, I had to have it. I mean, really.
I was looking at some of the reviews and saw some people taking issue with the art style and the content.
First, the art style is somewhat simplistic. It is done with line drawing, as you would with a ball point pen. I really enjoyed this, personally, although I will say that this book is very text-heavy. In fact, it is basically an illustrated textbook, and dense with information. Sometimes this can be difficult to consume since the line shading does make the pages "busy," and it can be hard to focus on any particular thing since so much is going on. I personally liked the art style a lot, but your mileage may vary.
Regarding the dark content, well. That's true. This book is set during the Italian Renaissance, when Italy was comprised of many city-states, some of which were ruled over by corrupt and brutal families who would stoop to violence in order to assure that they maintained their foothold in power. It's definitely not for those faint of heart. In fact, some of the horrific scenes from Game of Thrones borrow heavily from actual historical events from Renaissance Italy, so you can only imagine, I'm sure, the horrors in this book.
Women were not respected at all during this time, and many people saw Artemisia as vulnerable and fair game. Her rape and the subsequent trial were awful, and the artist did a good job depicting how upsetting this was (it almost certainly inspired her painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes). Despite that, she fared better than most, despite being tortured under interrogation, and the fact that she was able to accomplish so much and become so famous in a time when women were still mostly regarded as chattel is only testament to her influence and her brilliance, especially in a period of such adversity.
I liked how this wasn't just a biography, but also an exploration of the changes occurring (quite rapidly) in Renaissance Italy, a taste of the art scene and some of the key players, as well as a bit of a background on the wars between the protestants and the Catholics, and the in-house fighting among the various city-states of Italy before they were united. You really get a solid feel for the zeitgeist of Renaissance Italy and how all of those factors influenced Artemisia's style and life. That's way cool.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars
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