The story of Danaë is this: A princess of Argo, her father locked her a tower (or a cave) when he heard it prophesied that her offspring would murder him someday. But Zeus, the lecherous father of the gods famous for raping mortals, came to her in her tower (or cave) as a shower of gold and impregnated her. She gave birth to Perseus who did, indeed, murder his grandfather.
With its overtones of both rape and prostitution, the subject of Danaë has been treated by many painters, including Klimt, Rembrandt, and especially Titian --- who liked it so much he executed a whole series.
There is no cupid, and the maidservant appears to be oblivious to the suffering of her mistress. She is collecting the gold, failing to understand it as the incarnation of a rapist. It is interesting that in the more pornographic, rapist-identified works, the maidservant is featured as an old woman and an intentional panderer.
Artemisia was raped as a teenager. Here's the Wikipedia account: "Orazio hired [a colleague named Tassi] to tutor his daughter privately. During this tutelage, Tassi raped Artemisia... After the initial rape, Artemisia continued to have sexual relations with Tassi, with the expectation that they were going to be married and with the hope to restore her dignity and her future. Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia. Nine months after the rape, after he learned that Artemisia and Tassi were not going to be married, Orazio pressed charges against Tassi. Orazio also claimed that Tassi stole a painting of Judith from the Gentileschi household. The major issue of this trial was the fact that Tassi had taken Artemisia's virginity. If Artemisia had not been a virgin before Tassi raped her, the Gentileschis would not have been able to press charges... During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to a gynecological examination and being tortured using thumbscrews to verify her testimony. At the end of the trial Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time."
Footnote to Wikipedia's account: After the rape, the rapist offered to marry Artemisia if she continued to allow his assaults. Young, motherless, terrified and aware that she had been "ruined," she acquiesced. This compounded the trauma.
Still a child, Artemisia learned first-hand about the sexual commodification of women. Her rapist certainly treated her like an object, but what about her father forcing her into a trial that was publicly humiliating for the devaluation of what he considered his property? Artemisia's mother was deceased, and she found herself a pawn in a game about men.
I love the anger, the cynicism, the tension, the resistance in her Danaë. I love the feminism in all of her work... and this brings me to this most recent discovery, "The Magdalene in Ecstasy."
Again, let's take a look at the more traditional treatments of the Magdalene (the prostitute who became a follower of Jesus in the New Testament). Here is Titian... again.
And, of course, the truth is that most prostituted women are victims... victims of poverty, of child sexual abuse that has conditioned them to the role of commodity. The Magdalene is more sinned against than sinning.
Artemisia gives us a Magdalene whose arms are hugging her knees, not her breasts... who seems to be rocking back in some moment of private communion with a sense of her self-worth, her dignity. It is a woman who is comforting herself in the knowledge that it is the world that is at fault, not herself.
I appreciate this painting, and I appreciate the painful journey to the interior of herself that Artemisia must have taken in order to retrieve such empowering imagery in the face of patriarchal judgement and contempt.
And... Yes, I have a play that celebrates the art and the resistance of Artemisia. It's called Artemisia and Hildegard. And you can access it on Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and you can also order the paperback from any bookstore. It's sold individually and also in my award-winning collection, The Second Coming of Joan of Arc and Selected Plays.