There is a lot of news behind the Ford vs. Kavanaugh rape "trial" these days so I thought I'd share the tragic story of a trial over rape that goes back THOUSANDS of years. We're talking seventeenth century. My hope by sharing this story is that we can hopefully learn from all of this and not just let it become a current headline that we read about and then go back to our regularly scheduled programs. I hope we can openly evaluate, from all sides, listen and learn.
Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter to a talented and famous painter Orazio Gentileschi and was his apprentice for her early years of life until about the age 12 when her father recognized her own developing talent and began to hire tutors for her to study art more fully. Soon she began to create a niche in art that was unique and impressive for her time. Her feminine perspective, which was unheard of in the male dominated art industry, developed a following and respect unlike any of her male contemporaries. Her works often depicted females as protagonists and heroines.
Sadly, at the age of 17 she was raped by her tutor Agostino Tassi. To save her "reputation" it was expected of her to marry Tassi, but when her father learned that Tassi would refuse to marry her, he pressed charges against Tassi for rape and he was sent to trial.
The trial was horrific for Artemisia, who had to undergo a gynecological exam and had to endure a torture technique using a thumbscrew (a device used to slowly crush fingers) to help verify her testimony. Not to mention the emotional and social torture that she had to endure during a trial that was basically determining the validity of her "virginity". At that time the law would not even prosecute Tassi if she was not a virgin.
On top of that, a dear friend of Artemisia's, Tuzia, who was a resident on her property, had heard her screams for help during the rape and did not come to her rescue for whatever reasons, possibly out of fear for herself? Whatever the reason, experts believe that it is because of all of these experiences that Artemisia's art work shortly after had such a strong feminist message. Many of her paintings showed women defeating powerful men. One example is in her painting Judith Slaying Holofernes in which Judith is slicing the head of wicked Holofernes (both are characters taken from the apocrypha). She is also known to encourage female unity and solidarity, as shown in her painting Judith and Her Maidservant, likely from her experiences with Tuzia.
Despite the tragedies and slandering that the trial brought her, Tassi was convicted and Artemisia went on to marry Pierantonio Stiattesi, move to Florence and continue her art career. After that she was accepted as a member of Accademia di Arte del Disegno, a prestigious art institute. The first woman ever to do so. She continued to be a huge influence of her time and was widely accepted by her peers and the royal court. Her works are still studied and inspire many female artist today.
Her story is filled with lesson that we can learn from today. It is clear that in her time there were obvious disparities in the law and social culture that favored men and although there have been huge improvements, there is still room for more. The statistics are still alarming and I encourage everyone to research them for themselves so that you can go into conversations with the best possible information. A good resource for this is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) done by the Justice Department.
We need more solutions and the best way to find them is to learn from each other. It is my hope that her story can help us learn the importance of speaking up, even when we are faced with fear or shame. We all have experiences we can share and learn from. Christ is perfect because He knows and understands ALL. So one of the best ways for us to become more like Him is by learning to understand each other as He does.
So when we read about or hear a story like Artemisia or Ford, let's do our best to be open. Let's do our best to listen and learn and then we can apply love where needed because love is always the answer.
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