Orazio Gentileschi was one of the most famous followers of Caravaggio, an old master of Italian Baroque painting. Caravaggio’s heavy influence on Orazio inspired him to paint in naturalistic style to be able to execute decorative and emotive patterns. His famous works were mainly comprised of mythological subjects such as Danae, Diana the Huntress and Cupid and Psyche.
Gentileschi surname might ring a bell to you because of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was Orazio’s daughter. Although Orazio is not as popular as his daughter his contributions to shaping the future of Italian Baroque movement were significant. This is especially true when he established his own studio and later on became a master at the School of Caravaggio.
Orazio’s simplicity yet with elegance in drawing patterns enabled him to execute lyrical paintings inspired by his realistic interpretations of the subjects. He would paint warm and vivid characters that can evoke a certain level of spiritual intensity. Today, much of the works that have survived have been stored in various notable museums in Europe and North America.
Before Orazio adopted the Gentileschi surname, he was born by his father name Orazio Lomi on July 9, 1563 in Pisa, Tuscany. He came from a family of goldsmiths and artists with Giovanni Battista di Bartolomeo Lomi as his father. Orazio had his earliest training with his father in his goldsmith studio as an assistant together with his brother who became a painter some years later.
In 1576, at the age of 17, Orazio went to Rome alongside his uncle whose surname he adopted since his biological father had died around that year already. His uncle was a Captain of the Guards at Sant’Angelo Castle and the young Orazio had lived with him until he was old enough to pursue an independent career as a painter.
As with any artists, Orazio had a slow start in Rome being in competition with much better painters from Florence and Venice. His hard work began to produce significant results around 1598 or 1599 when he received public commissions. He began as a collaborator with several masters, one of which was Agostino Tassi for whom he painted landscapes. Tassi’s works had been placed at the Palazzo Rospigliosi.
Alongside Tassi, the two may have also decorated the central hall of the Quirinal Palace. Orazio had one job after the other painting for several cathedrals and chapels such as in San Nicola in Carcere, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Maria della Pace. However, Orazio was still an undistinguished artist of the later Mannerism style around the 1590’s.
There is no exact date as to when did Orazio come in contact with the works of Caravaggio. But it should be around the early 1600th when he was still in Rome and then he presumably began painting figures and landscapes after the naturalistic yet revolutionary style of Caravaggio. From then on, Orazio became well-known for executing his works within the patterns of his favorite artists.
At the turn of the new century, Orazio relied on the painting models and schemes of Caravaggio; from lighting, organizational structures and to spatial settings. This has even further developed when he began working for Caravaggio through some private commissions. Other artists that might have heavy influence on the Pisa painter were Ludovico Cardi and Santi di Tito.
In 1606, Caravaggio retreated to Naples after he got into a violent fight against a young man. But his departure didn’t have much effect on the career of Orazio as it in fact helped the emerging artist to make the Caravaggesque painting style even more popular. He worked on it until 1613 that his style shifted away from doing commissions by religious orders to commissions for private art patrons. He became a naturalist-lyricist painter, painting landscapes and portraits inspired by his ordinary objects.
He fomented collaborated with Agostino Tassi again in 1611. They decorated the ceiling and wall of Casino delle Muse; however, their partnership had to end around that year due to a fiscal-related dispute. Another controversy had broken out in 1612 when Tassi was accused of raping Orazio’s daughter, Artemisia. Orazio was summoned by the Tribunal of Rome to speak against his old master.
The public scandal was too much for the aging Orazio that when it ended, he wanted to get out of Rome already. He began sending paintings to various art patrons based in Ancona and used some of his reliable connections through Savelli and Borghese to acquire new clients. He was later on given the opportunity to decorate Chapel of Crucifixion in San Venanzo at Fabriano from 1616 to 1617.
After completing his frescoes for the Crucifixion Chapel in Fabriano, Orazio was invited by Giovanni Battista Sauli to go to Genoa and do some paintings for him. This opportunity opened some new jobs for him where he was treated as a go-to court artist of the noble families in Genoa. He also tried his luck with the court of Turin, which turned out to be successful before he went to Paris to begin another major commission there.
It is also worth mentioning that under the patronage of Sauli, Orazio produced masterpieces like Danae, Magdalene and Lot and His Daughters. These works helped him in his campaign for acquiring a pool of esteemed clientele while at the same time his success cemented his reputation as a distinguishable painter. Hence, he was asked to travel to Paris to become a court painter of Marie de Medici, an achievement that only the few selected late maniera painters have had achieved.
Although Orazio enjoyed a fair share of fame and success in France, he still decided to pursue an appointment in England. He went to London via the invitation of King Charles I to be his court painter in 1626. His first appointment was to partake in managing the household of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
For these English monarchs, Orazio painted one of the largest ceiling frescoes he had ever done. It was composed of Apollo and the Muses located at the newly reconstructed York House. His works were well received by the royal family, particularly by Queen Henrietta Maria. The Queen asked Orazio to decorate the ceilings of her Queen’s House in Greenwich which was later moved to the Marlborough House in London.
Orazio remained in England until his death in 1639, but he obviously had a very successful career in the international scene providing paintings for royal and noble patrons. His remains were buried in the Queen’s Chapel located at the premises of the Somerset estate.