Finding your own signature; inspiration from Artemisia & other greats (part 2)

In my last e-letter, I shared my recommendations for adding your signature to your original artwork and provided examples from Matisse and other greats.

I heard from many of my readers with thoughts on signatures. Thank you! One student even created a new signature inspired by the article. Simplicity itself.

A personal artistic signature from one of Jane's students.

Let me know if you create one, too!

Let's continue this discussion by looking at Artemisia Gentileschi.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652)

Artemisia, who often is recognized by her first name, has an interesting story. She was an Italian Baroque artist and the daughter of a well-respected artist, Orazio Lomi Gentileschi (1563–1639).

She served as an apprentice to her father. She learned at an early age to mix oil and pigment for his paintings. She is considered to be one of the best painters of the 17th C. Her peers included Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, and Velázquez. So, it's a formidable group.

Her paintings often depict strong women fending off difficult challenges, or showing legendary bravery and cunning. Frequently they show women suffering from patriarchy and a sense of ownership by men. Some paintings of hers are blatantly brutal, and in others, there is no brutality, or the brutality is more subtle.

Such as Danaé, depicting a Greek myth about a woman being raped.

In this painting, Zeus enters Danaé’s private bed chamber in the form of gold coins falling through the air. Through the shower of coins, Zeus proceeds to seduce and rape Danaé.

Danae, by Artemisia Gentileschi, from the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum.
I have lightened this painting slightly so you can see the gold coins more easily.
Please see the original image for more accurate values. 

Artemisia's Signature

Artemisia has examples of signatures in which her name is spelled in various ways. Of twenty-two letters in her personal correspondence, eighteen have her name spelled consistently, A-R-T-E-M-I-S-I-A G-E-N-T-I-L-E-S-C-H-I. This is how we spell it today. Four pieces of correspondence have variations on that spelling.

How can it happen that her name is misspelled? She was thought to be illiterate. Did someone spell it out for her, but got it wrong?

Artemisia added her father’s name “Lomi” to her signature when she was in Florence. “Lomi” identified her father and his family as Florentine. Kind of like a Michigan vs Ohio, rivalry, or a St Louis Cardinals vs Chicago Cubs rivalry, there was a huge amount of pride and passion frequently to where your family was from.

Presumably, adding Lomi was a way for Artemisia to capitalize on and identify her heritage as a Florentine. It appears she used this variation when painting in Florence.

When she was painting in Rome she used different variations of her signature, possibly not wanting to emphasize her Florentine heritage. According to an article by J.W. Mann, (see citation below), Artemisia "strategically used these variations in her signatures as a means to enhance her identity as an artist, to intrigue her patrons, and to underscore the themes of her subjects.”

In Susanna and the Elders Artemisia signed her name to appear chiseled into the stone bench she sits on. As written about by Mary Garrard, this is one of the cases in which she used both her surnames, Gentileschi and Lomi in her signature. It reads ARTEMITIA GENTILESCHI LOMI/ FACIEBAT. A.D. MDCXXII. (Citation below.)

Her signature is in the upper right. Unfortunately, the digital version of this painting cuts part of her signature off. What we see starts with the "r" of Artemisia. I have lightened this image slightly to enhance the ability to see the signature.

In this signature on Susanna and the Elders, she added a form of the Latin verb “fecere” which means “to make.” She sometimes used "facibt," sometimes "fecit," and sometimes she simply added the initial “F” with her signature. With this addition of the verb form she is declaring that, “I, Artemisia Gentileschi, made this.” (J.W. Mann)

Other artists used this nomenclature, too. Like Titian, who signed in Latin, and also included the "F" to indicate he created the artwork:

Using a form of "I made this" especially reminds me of the banner across Michelangelo’s most famous Pietà, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

In 1499, those viewing Michelangelo’s first Pietà did not recognize who the sculptor was. They guessed it was Christoforo Solari, a fellow sculptor not nearly as gifted as Michelangelo. A

As an unrecognized 24-year-old artist, apparently this irritated Michelangelo, because one evening, he sneaked back to the sculpture and, to clear up any confusion, he carved into the marble, “Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine did this.” It is carved on a sash across Mary’s chest as she holds her dead son across her lap. This is the only sculpture that Michelangelo ever signed.

Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome the Vatican). Notice the strap across Mary's chest with his signature on it. This is the only piece he ever signed.

So, as you create your new artist signature, feel free to add "I made this," after your name for your signature. :-)

Throughout my study on Artemisia, I have relied heavily on the distinguished work of Mary Garrard, emerita professor of history at American University. The following article that is most relevant to my post here about the signatures of Artemisia, although I am a huge admirer of all her work.

Garrard, Mary, Artemisia Gentileschi Around 1622: The Shaping and reshaping of an Artistic Identity, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London; University of California Press, 2001), 77-113; Hugh Brigstocke and John Somerville, with a foreword by Lady Victoria Leatham, Italian Paintings from Burghley House ( (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 1985), 80, cat.20.

Many of the details included here are from the research of Dr. Judy Mann, Senior Curator or European Art to 1800 for the St. Louis Art Museum:

Mann, J.W. (2009), "Identity Signs: meanings and methods in Artemisia Gentileschi’s signatures." Renaissance Studies, 23: 71-107, First published December 31, 2008.


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