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08 February 2011

It is the early 1600s in Rome. Artemisia Gentileschi, a young and upcoming artist, has suffered rape at the hands of her teacher and father's friend, and now has to endure the horrors of a public trial in which she is physically exposed during an examination to determine if she is a virgin or did in fact, suffer rape. With nothing but a thin screen to separate her from the attendees in court, seventeen-year-old Artemisia is poked and prodded, and humiliated. Following this horrifying introduction to the public Roman art scene, Artemisia enters into an arranged marriage with another painter and moves to Florence. Artemisia is much more talented than her husband and while the relationship begins in a playful and hopeful manner resulting in a child, it eventually is clear that her husband cannot handle the fame and talent that his wife possesses. She soon becomes more respected in Florence for her study and work. With her marriage failing, Artemisia begins to travel to different cities within Italy, pursuing her art and working with her patrons, successfully making her mark on the Italian art scene.  

Susan Vreeland
Without question, Vreeland has done a lot of research, and it shows. Influenced by her father's art and the controversial Caravaggio, Artemisia's paintings bring to life with vivid talent some of the darker moments from the Bible and historical legend. Absorbing and richly described, The Passion of Artemisia is a beautiful, and sometimes gritty, insight into Baroque Italy's artists, patrons, and even religion. Artemisia's life is visually detailed by Vreeland, as descriptive and thought-provoking as Gentileschi's actual paintings. The end result is a most satisfying read, of an engaging and tangible view into life for a female artist during one of the most influential times of Italian art. 

Those who are interested in art, the process of mixing paints and applying to canvas, and how a painting is translated from the mind to the canvas, will truly enjoy this book. If you liked Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, then you will most likely enjoy The Passion of Artemisa by Susan Vreeland. I look forward to the next audio production of Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue, also narrated by Gigi Bermingham, and also focusing on art.

Thoughts on the Audio
This is my first audio book that I actually enjoyed! Many of you know that I've struggled with finding a good one. Vreeland's story of this historical figure felt genuine and thorough, and the usage of the Italian language peppered throughout is wonderfully engaging and kept me enthralled. In fact, this is one of those books where I believe (based on the overall professional production of it) that I would much prefer the audio to the printed version.

Part of my enjoyment of this audio production was Gigi Bermingham's lyrical and fluid narration. When reviewing her background, it's no surprise that she is also registered with the Screen Actors Guild and has done film and television. Effectively maneuvering through the Italian language with an ease of an Italian born in Rome, Bermingham carried the story effortlessly. There was a clear and distinct voice to each of the characters, men included, and never once did I feel distracted. Combined with musical interludes introducing chapters, this audio production was exactly what I needed to feel more comfortable with listening to books.

Side Note
I am a fan of all things Italian. I love the culture, the people, the language, the food. To be able to go to Italy twice, with one of them being my honeymoon a year and a half ago, has been truly a fortunate blessing. Being able to revisit Italy through art, pictures, and books continues to keep me in love with Italy, and Vreeland's stunning story of this historical figure has been a fascinating walk into a true passion of mine. I did do some additional research, and Artemisia Gentileschi certainly was influenced by Caravaggio. (When I went to Rome, seeing Caravaggio's painting in person at the San Luigi dei Francesi literally made me cry). This graphic painting below of "Judith Beheading Holofernes" by Gentileschi is reviewed in detail in the book - the colors and actions are incredibly physically detailed, which definitely identifies the "Caravaggisti" influence. The painting below is graphic, however when compared to Caravaggio in the link provided above, you will see similarities with the physiology and movement, the colors, and the internal lighting that seems to emanate from within the painting.
Judith Beheading Holofernes

This is my first entry into the Italy in Books Reading Challenge hosted by Book After Book. I so thank her for hosting this challenge! Grazie cosĂ­ tanto, il mio amico! (Thank you so much, my friend!)

Lettura Felice,
Caffé e Una Donna del Libro


  1. Vreeland's books have been on my radar for a while, so it's only a matter of time before I pick one up. They do sound quite intriguing! I just have to brace myself for life in old Italy *phew* intense.

  2. I have this on my bookshelf and I read it a few years back and I really loved it. Thank you for reminding me of a great read!

  3. I read Girl in Hyacinth Blue last year and was really surprised by how good it was. I'll have to check this one out.

  4. I love historical books, adored Girl with a Pearl Earring and will wander over to Vreeland. Have heard good things about her writing.

  5. I struggle with finding good audio books too (and I also adore Italy.) This one sounds great. I'm off to check if my library has it!

  6. YES! Audios are such the way to go, and there are thousands of good ones out there. Carrie is the queen of audio, so you are in good hands with her recommendations.

  7. When an audio book is done right, it's hard to beat. I'm glad you found a great one!

  8. Trish - This is definitely a good life in Old Italy; not as intense as some novels that take on this topic, setting, or time period. I think you might like this one!

    S. Leighanne - So glad to read that you enjoyed it as well! Something about the Italian setting kept me enraptured!

    Avid Reader - I am excited to pick up Girl in Hyacinth Blue; glad to read that you enjoyed it!

    Kittie Howard - Definitely let me know if you get a chance to read it!

    nomadreader (Carrie) - Yay, let me know if you like it! I get swallowed up in the Italian languages and culture, and I love art, so I hope you like it. Gigi Bermingham does a great job, too!

    Sandy - I will admit that I'm now much more interested in audio books; I don't feel the same sense of opposition that I previously had when looking at what's available! And you are right, Carrie has great recommendations, and I love yours, too!

    bermudaonion - You are spot on, when it's done right, it is hard to beat!

  9. It was hard for me to get past the whole idea of the trial to prove she was raped. How awful!!!

    And I've been paying attention to comments on the audio productions now that I'm into audiobooks. I'm amazed what a good narrator can do to make a book really come alive.

  10. I'm so, so, so glad you loved it as much as I did!

  11. Glad you enjoyed the audio version. I loved The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, but have not read this one. Nice review.

  12. Jenners - A good narrator changes the entire experience of a book, I think. I've been trying to sort out why I didn't like the ones I've been listening to until this one, and I wonder if it's the story, the narrator, or both? I need more audio books and then I can identify why I like the ones that I do. Glad you're getting into them, it's definitely opened up a different experience of reading for me!

    (Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea - Thanks, Diane! I definitely will be interested in picking The Girl in Hyacinth Blue - I love books about art of any sort, fiction or non-fiction.

  13. What an interesting sounding book, and I am totally with Jenners about how awful it must have been to prove she was raped. I am not sure if I own this book, but I do own another book about Artemisia and am going to have to pick up both of them. As usual, your review was articulate, thoughtful and eloquent, and I thank you for it!

  14. Great review. I love Italy, enjoy historical fiction and I'm looking for some good audio books. I have no problem with short stories and non-fiction but with some of the fiction I start to lose focus.

    I was trying to learn to speak some Italian with an audio book but that was a miserable failure and we won't go there!

  15. I love Susan Vreeland. The amount of research she puts in really pays off. I just ordered Clara and Mr. Tiffany from my library. I can't wait to read her take on Tiffany.

  16. When you find the right combination of book and reader, the audio experience can be magical... so glad you found this!

  17. I was an art major when I first got into college. I stayed an art major for a couple of years before I switched over to English, and I went through a whole phase when I read a bunch of art-inspired fiction and historicals. This one was on my list, but I never got around to it before I moved on to some other phase. It's definitely back on my radar!

    I also see that you're reading Affinity on your Nook. I haven't read any of Waters' stuff, but I was watching a video podcast of an interview with her this weekend. The podcast was mostly about The Little Stranger, but I'm also really interested in Affinity. How's it going so far?

  18. Zibilee - Yes, I will say that it was an absolutely horrific moment in the story, and the book opens up with the trial as well. Very tough to stomach in one section. I'd be interested to hear about your other Artemisia book - I love to read about art so if you like it, I might want to check that one out as well. And thanks for the wonderful compliment, Heather!

    Leslie - Since you like the same things that I do, I think you would definitely enjoy this one! Let me know what you think! I've also been trying to learn Italian - I have the Rosetta Stone and I highly recommend it. That visual addition to the entire process is really beneficial, you might like it!

    marthalama - I'm not familiar with Vreeland's other books; I'll have to check out Clara and Mr. Tiffany!

    JoAnn - You are exactly right; this was absolutely magical for me!

    Andi - If I could do it all over again 16 years ago, I would have added art to my major along with English. But you know what? I still ended up in the corporate business world (I don't know how that happened!) -so I should say, if I could do it all over again, I would actually apply my majors into the real world immediately! It's tough (and I don't know how) to transition into it now.

    So far, I'm about 100 pages into Affinity and am loving it! It's also my first Waters read, and I love how Gothic and haunting it is. I have a few books I'm committed to read and review by certain dates over the next couple of weeks and so I had to put it down for a little while (including Villette!) so I'm really anxious to get back to it.

  19. I did love Girl with the Pearl Earring, so consider me intrigued!

  20. This one sounds interesting. I have a hard time with audio books, i've tries and couldn't enjoy them. Maybe I'll find an audiobook for me.

  21. The description of this book sounds great! I read Girl with the Pearl Earring a long time ago, but liked it, and have heard great things about Susan Vreeland.

  22. i'm SO happy you finally found an audio book that worked for you. i've sort of made it a mini-sport to convert people to audio books for their commutes! i failed with my sister but hope other readers will come to the dark side. i actually read 'the girl in hyacinth blue' a while back and didn't realize vreeland had a new book out. thanks for the tip!

  23. Nymeth - I really enjoyed this one, so I hope you do, too.

    Mrs. Q: Book Addict - I also have a hard time with audio books, and it took me quite a long time to find one that I liked. Try this one, it might be the one for you, too!

    Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness - Let me know if you do pick this one up. I love Italy and art, so this was definitely a winner for me!

    nat @book, line, and sinker - I know, right! :) It was such a long time of trying, that I almost gave up on it! I'm trying to figure out why it was this one that seemed to work so well for me - the story was remarkable, the narrator was engaging. It all just worked! I hope to pick up The Girl in Hyacinth Blue in audio form soon, since the same narrator does that one as well!

  24. Carrie K at Books and Movies - I can't believe I overlooked your comment, I'm so sorry! I did love it and I'm so glad I saw your review - I should have included that I was on a business trip and wanted to do something a little different than downloading to the Nook. This was a lifesaver on my trip - thank you, thank you!

  25. This is the first book I ever read for a book club so it holds a very special place in my heart. I absolutely loved it and I am happy to hear you finally found an audio you enjoyed!

  26. Great review. I have always been fascinated by this painting.

  27. Sounds like one I will be adding to my list to read!

  28. this sounds like a really interesting book, thansk for sharing the review

  29. I also like Italy and I saw Susan Vreeland speak tonight. She really goes all out to research her subjects. Sounds like a good read!


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