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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Prater

When Faced With a Decision, She Chose to Paint

Updated: Oct 22, 2022


McCullough, J. (2019, March 5). Blood Water Paint (Reprint). Penguin Books. ASIN B07CTW6ZMC


In Renaissance Italy, seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi endures the subjugation of women that allows her father to take credit for her extraordinary paintings. At twelve, her mother died, and she was given an ultimatum; become a nun in a convent or dedicate her life to her father as an “apprentice.” She chose to paint. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women. In the aftermath of her rape by her tutor and the ensuing trial, Artemisia was faced with another terrible choice; endure torture, or live life with the lie. The only thing that sustains her through these awful events are the stories her mother told her of strong women from the Bible.


Artemisia’s story is told as a novel in verse. It is the true story of a Roman woman artist that faces a patriarchal society and is a timeless theme that is seen throughout history. The story is told two-fold: as the biblical stories of Susanna and Judith, both bold ancient heroines from the stories told by her mother and written in prose, and through Artemisia's own stories as she navigates a life that is dominated by men who take what they want from women and is written in free verse. It tells the story of 17-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi, an apprentice artist at a time when women from lower social classes were not believed to have intellectual equality. After the death of her mother, Artemisia was raised by her father, a less talented artist and forced to spend her days as his apprentice. She was only “capable” of completing the menial tasks that he despised, but would complete most of his commissions at night, because she was a much better artist, to give him the recognition that he so deeply desired.

Artemisia’s father, who was more than happy to take credit for her work, hired a tutor to teach her perspective. At first, “Tino” awakens a passion in her as he validates her talent with his charming personality and sensual conversations. Just as Artemisia is filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration, she experiences a devastating setback as Tino asserts his control over her and ultimately rapes her. The stories of the strong female characters that Artemisia’s mother shared with her as a child, guide her through the aftermath of the rape, the subsequent trial, and both the mental and physical torment she endured as a result. These brave women gave Artemisia the strength she needed to endure these harsh treatments and forced the courts to believe her. "And listen to me, love. When a woman risks her place, her very life to speak a truth the world despises? Believe her. Always." And eventually, they inspired her most iconic paintings.

The audio version makes it challenging to follow the characters at times as the stories are woven together, and I think this book may be better suited read in print. This was my first time listening to this narrator, Xe Sands and overall, she had a soothing voice that fit the story. However, the characters did not sound distinctive enough to stand apart from the rest. Her performance did bring the text to life, and there were moments where you were transported into the characters’ lives as she vividly captured their excitement and fear. Sands has a natural pacing ability that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the most intense scenes. For this book, I listened to the unabridged version on Sora. It is also available on Libby and Audible.


Artemisia Gentileschi, 17-year-old daughter of a mediocre Renaissance painter, assists her choleric father Orazio in his studio, mixing colors but, moreso, trying to save face for him by finishing paintings that he is incapable of completing. Remembering the stories of strong biblical women which her now-deceased mother recounted to her-stories meant to strengthen her womanly resolve in a society that valued only men-Artemisia is determined to be the painter her father will never be; thus, when her father hires Agostino Tassi (Tino) to teach her perspective, she is thrilled to have someone who can help her achieve new artistic heights. As she paints Susanna and the Elders, her relationship with Tino changes, and he finally seduces her. At first, she is emboldened by his "love," but, when she realizes that he has simply used her, she is determined to bring him to court in an effort to save her honor. Gr 8 Up

- School Library Journal (January 2018)

★"A captivating and impressive."—Booklist, starred review ★"Belongs on every YA shelf."—SLJ, starred review ★"Haunting."—Publishers Weekly, starred review ★"Luminous."—Shelf Awareness, starred review


· William C. Morris YA Debut Nominees, 2019

· Voya starred, 2018

· National Book Foundation, 2018

· The Amelia Bloomer Book List, 2019


Similar Items You May Enjoy:

· Girls Like Me, by Kristin Butcher

· If I Tell You the Truth, by Jasmin Kaur

· We are the Ashes, We are the Fire, by Joy McCullough

Major Themes

AbuseArtemisia is entranced by the only man to take her work seriously…until he resorts to rape. No one believes her even after she insists on going to trial, with witnesses. In court, the only way for her to prove her innocence is to let them torture her both mentally and physically.

Related Works:

Adversity — Raised since she was 12 solely by her volatile, abusive and less talented father, Artemesia spends her days as her father’s apprentice, grinding pigments and completing most of his commissions. After being raped by her tutor, Artemisia was a brave, resilient woman who stood up for herself and became an icon during a time when women had almost no agency.

Related Works:

Journey — Artemisia is raped by her tutor and then is subsequently tortured in the judicial system, and both mentally and physically abused. Through this journey, Artemisia finds her own power in a world dominated by men and is finally allowed to paint.

Related Works:

Classroom Applications

· Trace the main characters' personal growth over the course of the novel.

· Design a Book Cover and write the forward for the book

· Create your Own Graphic Novel

· Story Event Illustration and Writing

· Create a Movie Poster with a “Hook”

· Create a Setting Map

· Create Character Trading Cards

· How does the act of speaking change things within the novel. On page 62, Artemesia says “what’s new is / I’ve give it voice.” How does this statement influence the rest of the novel?

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