Susan Vreeland is known for her recurring use of art-related themes in her historical fiction books. She makes a real painting the center of her writings. Vreeland’s other books include Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth Blue.
The Passion of Artemisia is a loose biography of an extraordinary female Baroque painter living in the times of Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi. Artemisia was the first woman to be accepted as a member to the Academy of Arts in Florence.
The story, set in the 17th century, opens with Artemisia as a girl of 18. She is standing at the center of a rape trial having been raped by her father's assistant, Agostino Tassi. As was common in her time, no one sided with her, not even her own father. Artemisia is left defeated, humiliated and unmarriageable. She explores the talents inherited from her father and proves to be a superior painter. History shows Artemisia Gentileschi was born with a passion to paint. Her prior life experience greatly influenced her and served as inspiration for her artwork. She painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from mythology and the Bible. Her works were commissioned in Rome, Florence, Genoa, and London, where she at last joined her father to make peace with him.
Even though Artemisia Gentileschi is a real figure, her story in this book is fictionalized since it contains fictitious conversations she could have had with contemporaries such as Galileo Galilei. Vreeland’s novel is better than others written about this artist since some change her life story and turn her rape into a love story. The Passion of Artemisia is an easy read for a non-scholarly audience about the life of the first woman who was accepted into the world of the high arts. The CD audio version of this book is narrated by Gigi Bermingham in a pleasant and mellow voice which is easy on the ear.