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Leda and the Swan
Allegory of Inclination, by Artemisia Gentileschi - Passionate Painting
118    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/03/2024

Commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, as part of a series of paintings to glorify the life of his great uncle, Michelangelo Buonarroti, known mononymously as Michelangelo, Allegory of Inclination is an oil painting on canvas created between 1615 and 1617 by Artemisia Gentileschi on the ceiling of the Galleria in the building named Casa Buonarroti in Florence. The building of the Casa Buonarroti was originally a property owned by Michelangelo, which he left to Leonardo Buonarroti and Leonardo converted it into a museum dedicated to his great uncle.

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Artemisia Gentileschi was commissioned by him to contribute a painting for the ceiling, alongside the other Italian painters like Giovanni Biliverti, Matteo Rosselli and Giovanni Coccapani. While each of the artists was commissioned to present an allegory of a virtue associated with Michelangelo, Artemisia was assigned the Allegory of Inclination, when she was in an advanced state of pregnancy.

allegory of inclination

Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, the first woman to attain the membership of Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, was introduced into painting by her father Orazio Gentileschi and as his style took inspiration from Caravaggio, her style was heavily influenced by him. Apart from that, she was also a bit influenced by her private tutor Agostino Tassi, who was later accused and convicted of raping Artemisia in 1612. Nevertheless, despite having very little opportunity for women in those early days to get trained and pursue the career of a professional artist, Artemisia started to create professional artistic works by the tender age of 15.

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Known for being able to depict the female figure with great naturalism, many of her paintings feature women from myths, allegories and the Bible, which include victims, suicides, and warriors. Her famous paintings include, among others, Susanna and the Elders, Judith Slaying Holofernes, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, Venus and Cupid, Judith and her Maidservant, Bathsheba, Madonna and Child, Danae and others.

allegory of inclination

Allegory of Inclination by Artemisia Gentileschi depicts a nude young woman, representing inborn creative ability, sitting atop a fluff of clouds and holding a compass, guided by the star of the Magi above her on the right topmost part of the canvas, while her elaborately styled light-coloured hair is attractively kept away from her beautiful face. The painting has a rich mix of colours, but extreme shading is a complete absence, probably for depicting angelic purity. Interestingly, the painting was the first of its kind to depict frontal nude of a woman and the features of the figure clearly resemble those in the self-portraits in the other artworks of Artemisia, especially the facial pattern, fine hair and dimpled hands, created by her while she was in Florence. As a result, a woman painting a nude woman and creating what is thought to be an idealized self-portrait, potentially made the work all the more unique and highly controversial.

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As the nudity was embarrassing to the commissioner's great-nephew Leonardo da Buonarroto, he commissioned another painter, Baldassare Franceschini in 1684, to cover the nudity by veils and draperies.

allegory of inclination
Simulation of the work without veils

However, thanks to digital imaging and other modern tools, Artemisia’s original composition was revealed through the year-long Artemisia UpClose project, which unveiled the artist’s original vision virtually, not physically, since the removal of the thick layers of oil paint applied by Baldassare Franceschini less than five decades after the original could put Artemisia’s delicate glazes just underneath the over-paint at risk The restoration work revealed the figure’s navel, as well as a fingerprint on the figure’s calf, which was likely made by the artist herself, when the original paint was wet. As it seemed to be impossible to physically remove the added drapery without damaging the work, ultraviolet light, diagnostic imaging and X-rays were used to create a digital replica of the original version, to differentiate between the original brush strokes of Artemisia and the subsequent strokes of Baldassare, who covered the nudity.

allegory of inclination
Allegory of Inclination, after restoration

It is maintained by many art critics that a woman painting a nude woman, and creating what is thought to be an idealized self-portrait, made Allegory of Inclination all the more unique and controversial. Nevertheless, the project of unveiling of the figure in Allegory of Inclination, revealing the image originally painted by Artemisia, turned an ordinary restoration into a quest to discover the woman behind the veils and reveal her abilities that complement her iconic personality.

allegory of inclination
Leda and the Swan
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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