Painting Emerges After a Century in Storage as a Long-Lost Artemisia Gentileschi

A painting left in storage for more than 100 years has been reattributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, a Baroque painter who, after centuries of relative obscurity, has in recent decades been reconsidered as a major figure of her era.

Titled Susanna and the Elders, the painting was kept at Hampton Court, a Tudor palace outside London, after being attributed to a French artist, the BBC reports. Curators at the Royal Collection believe the painting was commissioned by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria of France; it is currently on display at Windsor Castle.

“It really is super-exciting,” Anna Reynolds, deputy surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Royal Collection Trust, told the Observer. “You just could not see the quality of the painting beneath the grime until now, but absolutely it is true and this find has come about as a result of Artemisia’s recently restored reputation.”

The painting depicts the biblical figure Susanna in distress over being watched by two men while bathing. Susanna rejected the pair’s advances, and then was forced to stand trial after false accusations of infidelity were made against her. The same subject is also depicted in another well-known Gentileschi painting that is dated to ca. 1610.

The robust interiority of female figures is a signature of Gentileschi of practice. Art historians have variably linked this sensitivity to the seven month-long rape trial of her painting instructor, during which she endured torture as a means of verifying her testimony. In Gentileschi’s best-known work, Judith Beheading Holofernes, the pious Judith and her maid serenely commit the titular murder of a general who ransacked their home. 

Gentilieschi attained acclaim in her lifetime and was one of the first women to create a lucrative career as a painter, but despite decades of academic attention, for centuries Gentilieschi’s work could not rival the market prices of her male contemporaries. It wasn’t until 2014 that one of her works sold for more than $1 million at auction.

“We don’t estimate the price of anything in the Royal Collection, as we will never sell,” Reynolds said of Susanna And The Elders, “but this is a rare work because of the unbroken provenance, except for around 20 years during the interregnum when it was acquired by a man named Banks who quickly gave it back to the Crown after the restoration.”

It’s unclear how many works by Gentilieschi are in existence. Periodically, new works by her are found, often making headlines when they are located.

Lucretia sold to the Getty Museum in 2021; it had been bought by a collector in 2019 at Artcurial for $5.3 million, and the house said it sat unidentified in a private collection in the French city of Lyon for 40 years. Meanwhile, last year, an anonymous painting held by the Sursock Palace in Beirut was reattributed to Gentilieschi. That painting, which depicts a scene from the myth of Omphale, Queen of Lydia, and Hercules, was damaged in the 2020 Beirut port explosion. It was sent to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it is still undergoing restoration.