Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi lives for the moments when she connects "the brush to the paint to [her] breath to the canvas." Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, is a professional painter, and Artemisia labors as his apprentice, touching up his commissions with "strokes/of [her] own choosing." Artemisia's skill brings in the clients who pay for their bread, but it's Orazio Gentileschi who signs the finished art.
In this "world of men"--17th-century Rome--Artemisia painfully learns that women are merely "beauty/ for consumption." Agostino Tassi, engaged to give her art lessons, instead rapes her: "I've no authority," the fictional Artemisia recounts, "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing." The real Artemisia brought charges against Agostino Tassi, even though she knew it was unlikely she would win.
This piece of historical fiction, told in luminous verse and based on transcripts from that trial, tackles issues of gender and power. Artemisia's mother, before her death, told her daughter stories of two women, Susanna and Judith, who triumphed over the monumental injustices they faced because of their gender. Susanna and Judith serve as Artemisia's spiritual mentors, and from them she draws strength to paint her own path.