Interdisciplinary General Education lecturer Peg Lamphier has been a longtime advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Most of her published works have focused on highlighting the contributions of women in American history, such as in the award-winning encyclopedia, “Women in American History” that she wrote and edited with IGE lecturer Rosanne Welch, and a biography on celebrity Kate Chase, examining the intersections of family, gender relations and politics in the Civil War era.
In her new book, “What a Woman Can Do,” she writes a biography about the late Renaissance/Early Baroque period painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
According to Lamphier, Gentileschi is considered by feminist art historians as one of the great emulators of a style of painting pioneered by Michelangelo Caravaggio called Caravaggisti.
“Unlike a lot of women of her time, she had an opportunity to learn to paint because her father, Orazio, was a fairly well-known painter. In fact, until recently, many of Artemisia’s paintings were attributed to her father, in part because critics didn’t believe a woman could possess the skill illustrated in the works,” said Lamphier.
Gentileschi’s story is particularly interesting, she said, because as a very young woman she was sexually assaulted by her father’s friend and fellow painter, Agostino Tassi, which led to a trial that found him guilty, but ultimately ruined her reputation.
Many of her paintings feature women engaging in resisting the “male gaze” and predation, or simply engaging in violence against men. For example, Gentileschi painted several versions of a young widow named Judith beheading the king’s general Holofernes.
Gentileschi painted in a variety of Italian cities with her father, completing works for King Charles I of England. She spent the last half of her life in Naples, Italy where she lived through one of Mount Vesuvius’s eruptions and a deadly revolt. The year of her passing is unknown. It has been speculated that she died in 1656 in a plague that killed half of Naples’ population.
“First, and most simply, I’d like readers to understand that not all great artists in history were men,” said Lamphier. “History celebrates the men, but that doesn’t mean the women artists didn’t exist. Also, there’s a reason there are fewer female artists in history—society was arranged so as to make it nearly impossible for women to do anything but be caretakers and low-wage workers. The few women who did “make it” as artists, did so in the face of tremendous obstacles, making their achievements all the more significant.”
Last year, the National Gallery in London mounted the first major Gentileschi exhibition, shining a light on her work. In addition, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles made an announcement about acquiring a new Gentileschi painting in March 2021.
“Artemisia’s life suggests the power in making your own choices, being unconventional and following your passion,” said Lamphier. “If she’d done what was expected of her, we wouldn’t be talking about her in the 21st century. Also, she was victimized, but she fought back in her own way and spent her entire life making her own way through the world, regardless of what society told her she should be doing. Too many women are sexually assaulted, and too many carry the scars of that violence all their lives. We live in a society where we still blame women for men’s violence against them. Most of us can’t do much about that, but we can control how we live our lives as survivors.”
Lamphier has been teaching in the IGE Program for 18 years. She teaches a course about horror books and movies, as a tool for examining how we use “monstrosity” to “other” people (IGE 3300), as well as a course that uses science fiction novels and films to examine cultural anxieties about science and technology (IGE 3200).
In addition to her current book project, she is also collaborating with IGE lecturer Rosanne Welch on a book titled “American Women in Film,” which is expected to be released later this year or early in 2022. She is also finishing a Gaslamp fantasy novel, “All the Devils Are Here,” which is part of a three-book series.
For more information about Lamphier’s publications, visit her website at www.peglamphier.com.