His Head on a Platter: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Revenge against Men

Written by Alan Gold
Review by Kelly Urgan

Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi is raped – it’s no secret – and this very young, talented woman’s life is thrown into chaos. Her rapist, Agostino Tassi, promises to marry her but keeps postponing the wedding. After a year of waiting, Artemisia’s father, the well-known artist Orazio Gentileschi, takes Tassi to court. Artemisia endures horrors during a seven-month trial to prove her innocence, but this is Rome in 1612, and Tassi works directly for the Pope, leaving Artemisia to wonder if she will receive justice.

In 1641, forty-eight-year-old Artemisia lives in London and is writing about her horrific past. To get her revenge against men, she has spent her life painting strong women, but she worries that she and her work will be lost over time. She plans to complete her memoir, which will reveal the truth about her life and work while keeping her memory alive.

Meanwhile, in 21st-century Sydney, Australia, retired geologist David Cabot finds a painting in a suburban gallery that he can’t resist buying despite its gruesome nature: a child who has bitten his mother while nursing. While David unlocks the mystery of the painting, another secret develops: what happened to the book Artemisia wrote?

Artemisia’s tale is a deep, horrific story full of rage at the injustice women suffer, and this book is her retribution. The framework that this novel is built upon is clever, especially since a new mystery had to be created. However, the modern storyline with bumbling David Cabot is a real disappointment. It’s based on true events, but it’s a shame the storyline couldn’t have focused instead on the detective skills of the intelligent and strong Professor Martina Calabrese, the Uffizi’s Gentileschi expert.