Activists Cover Up Paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi’s Rapist in Italy

Activists took to Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale last week to protest a controversial exhibition on Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi that has drawn criticism from various groups, who say it exploits the painter’s sexual trauma and platforms her convicted rapist Agostino Tassi. Led by anti-patriarchal advocacy group Bruciamo Tutto (Italian for “Let’s Burn Everything”), the action at 11:30am on Friday, March 29 consisted of concealing three of Tassi’s paintings on display and spattering red paint to draw attention to Italy’s enduring domestic violence and femicide crisis.

“We are covering this painting because we cannot stand the paintings of Artemisia’s rapist being hung next to hers,” a demonstrator named Anna said during the protest action, according to a Bruciamo Tutto press release shared with Hyperallergic.

“We are deeply disturbed by the choice to make the rape spectacular,” she continued, referencing the exhibition’s much-maligned “rape room,” which involves a dark room with a bed drenched in blood and an audio reading of Gentileschi’s graphic testimony of her assault during her 1612 rape trial.

The installation has been denounced by visitors and critics alike, including in a recent opinion for Hyperallergic by Italian writer Ginevra Rollo, who wrote that the show “presents a unilateral representation of Gentileschi, trading a celebration of the artist’s opus for a violent spectacle.”

Activists glued black cloth to the frames of Tassi’s paintings to shroud them from view while simultaneously leaving a pool of red paint on the floor alongside crimson handprints and footprints on the walls and floor.

In addition to setting off fire alarms, demonstrators crossed out Tassi’s name on the plaques next to artworks. On the wall above the labels, they wrote the name of Joy Omoragbon, a 49-year-old woman who was recently stabbed to death in her Bergamo home by her partner, Aimiose Osarumwense.

The Bruciamo Tutto civil disobedience group was founded in November following the murder of 22-year-old Italian student Giulia Cecchettin, whose killing sparked mass protests across Italy and pushed the country’s lawmakers to pass new measures addressing escalating gender violence. In 2023, at least 109 women were killed in Italy — more than half murdered by partners or ex-partners.

“We decided not to damage the painting but to obscure it, because the message is ‘it should not be here, not like this, not in this context,’” Anna said.

Activists covered Agostino Tassi’s paintings with black cloths that were subsequently glued to the works’ frames.

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