Queen Artemisia (4th century B.C.) of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor was said by ancient authors to have mourned her husband, Mausolus, by building the Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. She then drank his ashes mixed with wine in order to become his living tomb and an example of virtue (exemplum virtutis). Here, the queen’s retainers of different ages and status marvel at her prodigious act, in accordance with the rules set forth for humanist history painting by theorist Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise De pictura (1435), where this noble genre was defined.
The Utrecht painter Gerrit van Honthorst spent from 1610/15 to 1620 in Italy, where he became a follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and was known for his night scenes as "Gherardo delle Notti." Upon his return to the Catholic stronghold of Utrecht, he moved from tenebrous to courtly scenes and worked for patrons such as Charles I of England, Christian IV of Denmark, and the House of Orange-Nassau. Artemisia hung over the fireplace in the house of Amalia van Solms, widow of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange-Nassau, who died in 1647. It was probably painted earlier, however, for Elizabeth of Bohemia, the widow of the Elector Palatine Frederick V (king of Bohemia 1619–20; died 1632). Known as "The Winter Queen," she spent many years in exile in the Netherlands before returning to her native England shortly before her death, in 1662.
Artemisia, a fourth-century B.C. queen in Asia Minor, was said to have built the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—to commemorate her deceased husband, Mausolus. She then drank wine mixed with his ashes in order to become his living tomb and an exemplar of virtue. In Van Honthorst’s painting, Artemisia’s retainers marvel at this extraordinary act. Their individual responses vary depending on age and social status, in keeping with the rules for history painting defined by the Italian architect and artist Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise Della Pittura (On Painting, 1435).
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|Lyckle de Vries, Stories in Gilded Frames: Dutch Seventeenth-century Paintings with Biblical and Mythological Subjects (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016).|