Eternally Artemisia Author Interview
Some Loves, Like Some Women, are Timeless

Eternally Artemisia is the third fiction book set in Italy by Melissa Muldoon. As in her previous book, Waking Isabella (read my review), Melissa uses her expertise in art history, fine arts, Italy, and Italian to weave together stories set in different time periods. In Eternally Artemesia, the stories revolve around the Renaissance female painter Artemisia Gentileschi and the fictional Madelena. Recommended for those who like time travel, romance, and fiction set in Italy.

Starting with a brief story set in Biblical times on which one of Artemisia’s paintings is based, the book then moves on to a story told in the present. My favorite part was the flashback to the Renaissance period, set mainly in Florence, about Artemisia Gentileschi, Galileo, and a few other famous people.

The last section of the book, taking place in the early 20th century, ties up some loose ends from the stories set in the present and in the Renaissance. Finally the story and flashbacks all come together in the surprise ending, a different twist from Melissa’s previous two books.

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Author Interview: Melissa Muldoon

  • Were the characters of Maddie and Matteo based on real people who were associated with Artemisia Gentileschi?

Eternally Artemisia is historically accurate and based on real-life events regarding the life of Artemisia and everything she went through. I wanted to communicate Artemisia’s story in her own time and in her own voice and the majority of the characters that appear in the seventeenth-century section actually existed. However, the story weaves in fiction and suspense and the characters of Maddie and Matteo are protagonists I invented to add another layer of complexity to the story—that of loves that endure through the centuries and with each new re-incarnation, they meet for the first time and recognize one another instinctively—just as Maddie meets and recognizes Artemisia in different time periods.

As I began my research about Artemisia’s life and the different eras my main character Maddalena experiences over time, I couldn’t help but also be influenced and inspired by a whole host of other strong sympathetic, trend-setting women. In fact, as I began flushing out Maddie’s character in the 1930s, I found the perfect role model in Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer who worked in Paris during the 1930s. She ran in the avant gard art circles of Picasso, Man Ray and Dalì. She was also outspoken in her criticism of both Hitler and Mussolini. As a result, she wasn’t welcome in the city of her birth—Rome. Elsa started her Couture House in Paris in 1923, and between the two World Wars, she was more well-known than Coco Chanel.

Fun author’s note: I decided upon giving Matteo the Crociani name after speaking with Susanna Crociani who has taken over the Crociani family winery in Montepulciano. One night over a glass of wine I asked her to help me find a real traditional Tuscan name with roots back to the renaissance. She replied: use mine!

  • Where can readers see art works by Artemisia Gentileschi?

Fortunately for us we can view Artemisia’s paintings in many places around the globe. Many are located in private collections—like the Crociani family gallery that I invented in my novel—as well as in major museums. Since Gentileschi painted several versions of many subjects—like Judith and Holofernes and Bathsheba and David—you will find several representations in Italy and other countries.

  • In America, you will find these works of art by Gentileschi: Danae (Saint Louis Art Museum), Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes (Detroit Institute of Arts), David and Bathsheba (Columbus Museum of Art)
  • Artemisia’s painting of Saint Catherine with the wheel (and self-portrait)—that I write about in the novel—is located in the National Gallery in London.
  • In Florence, Italy you will find Artemisia’s work in the Uffizi as well as in the Pitti Palace: Madonna and Child, Mary Magdalene, Judith and her maidservant, Bathsheba and David, Saint Catherine of Alexandria. In Florence, in the Casa Buonarotti you will still also find the Painting I write about in the novel—Allegory of Inclination. It is Artemisia’s nude self portrait painted as a tribute to Michelangleo. (Note: later generations decided Artemisia’s nude body was much too decadent and had drapery painted over her).
  • Do you know of other female painters who were inspired by or followed Artemisia?

Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the first and foremost female artists of the seventeenth-century that stands out and made a name for herself in her day and age. While other artists of that time period were followers of Caravaggio—what set her apart was her ability to take Caravaggio’s style and make it truly her own. It could be said Artemisia was one of the first to champion the woman’s movement, refashioning traditional biblical themes, repurposing them so that in her canvases, women become the center of the viewer’s focus. In her paintings, she demonstrates that when women unite and take control of their lives and their destinies, they become the heroes of the story. No one else prior to that had the creativity to re-envision such traditional subjects in such a unique way.

Sadly, many women artists have not made it into the history books, because much of art history was curated and written by male historians—like Roberto Longhi. He was a scholar fascinated by Caravaggio’s work. However, his assessment, like many men of his day, was disdainful of Artemisia claiming her to be a “first-rate painter technically,” yet he rated her intellectually inferior to her male counterparts.

But, it was his wife Anna Banfi, who I base the character of Lucia, the Jewish art history researcher, who helps Matteo discover more about Artemisia during the 1930s who saw the true genius of Artemisia and decided to write a book about her to challenge her husband’s assessment. Banfi was one of the first women to shed light on Artemisia’s talents and then, in the 1970s, once again Artemisia was “re-discovered” by feminist art historians who championed her cause inspiring a new generation of artists.

In regard to another artist of note, who painted prior to and during Artemisia’s life time is Sophonisba Angussola. She was an Italian painter from Cremona who studied under Michelangelo and who was court painter to the Spanish queen Elizabeth of Vlois in Madrid. Bet you never heard of Sophonisba—but have heard volumes about lesser talented male artists! Unfortunately, like Artemisia and many other female artists, Sophonisba’s art and life journey has been lost and overlooked. Sophonisba lived to be 93 and had a fascinating life and there is a possibility that Artemisia may have been introduced to her at some point. Needless to say, I’m considering her as the topic of my next novel.

melissa muldoon
Author Melissa Muldoon with Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi

About the Author: Melissa Muldoon

Melissa Muldoon has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history and a master’s degree in art history. As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family, studying art history, painting, and Italian. She uses this background effectively in writing her books as well as designing the book covers.

Melissa is also known as the Studentessa Matta, the crazy linguist. Matta means crazy or impassioned, and the second adjective certainly applies to Melissa. She promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta. She continues to travel in Italy and study Italian, organizing small-group language immersion programs twice a year.

Visit Melissa Muldoon’s web site and follow her on Facebook to find out more.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by Italy Book Tours.


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Eternally Artemisia Author Interview originally appeared on MarthasItaly.com , updated: Aug 24, 2020.