Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1615–1617
National Gallery, London
Her eyes look away, as if thinking of a painful memory, yet there is a calm in her monumental pose. She’s got the strong, muscular arms Artemisia always gave the women in her paintings and as she ponders the past, the fingers of her left hand rest on a shattered wooden wheel with vicious metal spikes embedded in its rim.
Just a few years before she painted this self-portrait, those fingers were deliberately crushed in a courtroom in Rome, when an 18-year-old Gentileschi was publicly subjected to a thumbscrew-like torture called the sibille. Cords were twisted round her fingers then pulled tight, supposedly to ensure her evidence at the trial of the man who raped her was honest.