Called before the Roman magistrates in March 1613 to give evidence at the trial of Agostino Tassi, fellow painter Artemisia Gentileschi left nothing to the imagination in describing how he raped her. She went on to relate how he foiled her attempts at revenge:


“After he had finished his business he got off me. Seeing myself free I went to the table drawer and took out a knife and moved towards Agostino saying, ‘I want to kill you with this knife because you have dishonoured me’. And he opened his tunic saying ‘Here I am’, and I threw the knife at him; he shielded himself otherwise I would have hurt him and might easily have killed him. The outcome was that I wounded him slightly on the chest and he bled little because I had scarcely pierced him with the point of the knife. Then the said Agostino fastened his tunic and I was weeping and lamenting the wrong done to me…”


As events turned out, Tassi got off lightly. Offered his choice of sentence, five years rowing in the papal galleys or banishment from Rome, he understandably chose the latter – and was in any case soon pardoned, much to the disgust of his victim. But Artemisia Gentileschi got her man in the end, so the story goes. Painting her bloodthirsty masterpiece Judith and Holofernes – done in the same year as the rape trial – she is said to have cast herself in the role of Judith and none other than Agostino Tassi in that of the hapless Holofernes. And so, in art at least, the tables were turned. Artemisia-as-Judith  has rolled up the sleeves of her blue silk dress the better to go about the messy and arduous job of decapitating her enemy...

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