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The Getty Reunites Paintings by Renowned Italian Artist Orazio Gentileschi

Orazio Gentileschi in Genoa: Paintings for the Palazzo Sauli
October 1, 2002-January 12, 2003

September 19, 2002

Los AngelesDifferent perspectives on women’s love of God are explored in the upcoming exhibition Orazio Gentileschi in Genoa: Paintings for the Palazzo Sauli at the J. Paul Getty Museum from October 1, 2002 through January 12, 2003. This focused exhibition brings together three extraordinary paintings produced between 1621 and 1623 by the renowned Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639). Gentileschi is considered the most gifted follower of Caravaggio, and was the father of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1652/53), the most successful female artist of her day.

Gentileschi perfected his courtly style while working for the Genoese nobleman Giovan Antonio Sauli (1596–1661), and the paintings he produced during this period established his fame. The three works in the exhibition—Lot and His Daughters from the Getty Museum collection, and Danaë and the Shower of Gold and Saint Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy, both on loan from private collections—are from this period. When seen together, the similarities and differences in the paintings invite comparison, reflecting the broad complexity of love and life.

"In the works commissioned by Giovan Antonio Sauli, Gentileschi tempered Caravaggio’s revolutionary realism with a refined sense of beauty that is revealed in elegant, stylized compositions and a poetic use of light and color," said Dawson Carr, exhibition curator and associate curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. "The paintings treat the theme of love from three different perspectives and the interaction of the compositions reveals much about attitudes toward women and the love of God in 17th-century Italy."

Gentileschi’s friendship with Caravaggio (1571–1610) provided a new direction for his art. Caravaggio’s emphasis on realism and dramatic lighting revolutionized painting in the early 17th century and influenced a generation of artists from all over Europe. Gentileschi adopted Caravaggio’s methods, including the practice of working directly from posed models, while infusing his work with his own lyrical sense of beauty.

Although Gentileschi was already a successful painter in Rome, his career flourished when he moved to Genoa in 1621 at the invitation of Sauli. In the highly cultured environment of Genoa, Gentileschi developed a new sense of artistic elegance that led to later appointments as painter to the French queen Marie de Medici in Paris, and then to the English king Charles I in London. Gentileschi’s artistic legacy can also be seen in his daughter’s work. Trained by her father, Artemisia Gentileschi is still considered one of the most powerful female artists Italy has produced.

In each of Gentileschi’s paintings in Orazio Gentileschi in Genoa: Paintings for the Palazzo Sauli, the artist presents different views on divine love and free will, drawing on pagan and Judeo-Christian traditions. Danaë and the Shower of Gold comes from the myth of the king of Argos, who locks his daughter Danaë in a tower when he learns that she is destined to bear a son who will kill him. But her imprisonment does not deter the amorous god Jupiter, who visits Danaë as a shower of gold, impregnating her. Saint Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy shows the rapture of the biblical sinner who is ultimately redeemed by Christ’s love and forgiveness. Both women are mortals overwhelmed by the love of a god, but while Danaë’s fate is to abandon herself to Jupiter’s lust, Mary Magdalen chooses the ecstasy of spiritual, rather than physical, love.

Between the pagan notion of fate and the Catholic ideal of freely given love for God is Lot and His Daughters. Fearing that the destruction of the city of Sodom and its inhabitants would leave them unable to procreate as God commands, Lot’s daughters seduce their father. Because they did not trust God to provide them with children, they chose to commit the sin of incest, although with noble intentions. "By posing the intoxicated father curled like a baby in his daughter’s lap, Gentileschi brilliantly suggests the reversal of relationships and their outcome," said Carr. "There is a telling lack of eroticism. Instead, the artist’s languid, entangled grouping suggests the moral complexity of the interaction."

Related Program: In conjunction with the exhibition, the Getty Conservation Institute will present the lecture The Restorer’s Work: Thoughts about the Art and Science of Paintings Conservation, part of its Issues in Conservation series. The talk by Mark Leonard, head of paintings conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum, will take place on Thursday, October 10, at 7:00 p.m. in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium. Leonard will discuss recent painting treatments of works by Gentileschi and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, on view in the Getty Museum exhibitions Orazio Gentileschi in Genoa: Paintings for the Palazzo Sauli and Greuze the Painter: Los Angeles Works in Context.

Note to editors: color images available upon request
For more information, or lecture reservations, call 310-440-7300 or visit

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