The Passion of Artemisia and Jar City: Rape Through the Ages

“Paint it out of you, carissima.  Paint out the pain until there’s none left.  Don’t take on shame from their mockery.”
 Sister Graziela   (The Passion of Artemisia)

I didn’t intend to read a story about the horrors and aftermath of rape, much less two of them back to back. But the similarities of personal anguish amidst the different settings were so striking that I decided to put these two reviews together. While reading Jar City I began comparing and contrasting the two books in my head. First of all, the genres are different. The Passion of Artemisia is a historical fiction about a real seventeenth century painter while Jar City is a modern Icelandic crime drama. Both came highly recommended, one by a fellow book blogger, one by my hubs. You gotta read this!

The Passion of Artemisia was written by a woman, Jar City by a man. Yet both understood how women are revictimized over and over again through the criminal and justice systems as well as by their own families. None of the rape victims ever saw anything approaching justice their whole lives. Artemisia was raped before her marriage with her husband having full knowledge of what happened. Katrin was married and told her husband forty years later. Both women were abandoned, one by a womanizing husband, the other literally left. Kolbrun never married.

Interesting thing about the so-called criminal justice systems of both times. The men had a front of belief that the woman was the “whore” and “liar”. Both stories featured evidence that was ignored, destroyed, or willfully misinterpreted. Artemsia was tortured to admit her own guilt while the Icelandic Kolbrun was mocked and humiliated. Corrupt men were at the justice helm in both stories. One was in a religious capacity, the other a policeman. It makes me think about the last couple of months in America. Bad, really bad men have some truly great hiding places.

The Passion of Artemisia will top my list of best books of 2011. It is a wonderfully written story about a great painter and woman. Artemisia was a talented, incredibly strong person who did not change her story under torture. I love her for that.  When she was commissioned to paint Lucretia, a woman who committed suicide after being raped, she decided to go in a different direction.

 “This isn’t the Lucretia everyone expects her to be,” Orazio said.  “I know.  But it’s got to be this way, that she isn’t sure, so people looking at it a long time from now, women and men too, might feel badly, might even weep that at some ignorant time there was once a woman raped who was pressured, even expected, to kill herself.”

If only. Artemisia chose to paint Judith slaying Holofernes several times through the course of her life. In one, her Agostino Tassi’s face was on the head in the basket. It did not please her at all.

I couldn’t make the greenish gray face look like anything other than Agostino’s.  That bothered me. I didn’t want to paint out of hate.

Personally I think putting your rapist’s face on a head in a basket would be rather cathartic. Not Artemisia. She is on a higher plane of moral development. I don’t want to give away the story but her search for forgiveness was ongoing, like the betrayals by those who should have stood by her.

Jar City was also a good read.  The title had an unexpected and disturbing meaning. Definitely not for the squeamish.  Inspector Erlander has his own set of problems, chiefly amongst those a drug addicted, train wreck of a daughter. Unlike Orazio Gentileschi however, he did not abandon his daughter to the bad guys. And that was probably the greatest contrast of the two books.

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4 Responses

  1. I saw a movie a long time ago about Artemisa…she always amazed me by her brilliance and the challenges she faced as a female artist. I’ll have to read the book!

  2. I read and loved The Passion of Artemisia several years ago. Thanks for reminding me of it! May be time for a re-read. I like your idea of combining both books in your review. I often find myself combining books for reviews to keep from getting so far behind in my reviewing.

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