Backlist Reviews

Backlist Review: Blood Water Paint

Title: Blood Water Paint

Author: Joy McCullough

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Format: Hardback, 298 pages

Blood Water Paint on Goodreads


A debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

I will show you
what a woman can do.



Blood Water Paint was one of my favorite reads of 2018. I love art and spent a lot  of time studying Artemisia Gentileschi for my art history degree. So I knew I had to read it the moment I saw it in Barnes & Noble shortly after it was released.

While McCullough has created a fictional account of Artemisia, her life, and her trail, this is one of the most well researched accounts of Artemisia’s life I have ever read. McCullough’s dedication to telling Artemisia’s story is evident and the amount of compassion she shows for her subject is moving.

Royal Collection
Self Portrait, 1638-1639

For those of you who may not know Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and one of the only know female painters of the time*. After her mother died when she was 12 Artemisia faced a life of either working for her father, a painter, or entering a convent and becoming a nun. Artemisia choose to work for her father and as she worked in his workshop he soon began to recognized her talent as a painter. At first she did minor work on his paintings but soon she was doing the majority of the work on many paintings. Her father soon engaged a private tutor to help her further develop her skills as a painter. This teacher would rape Artemisia shortly after he began tutoring her.

Artemisia told her father about the rape shortly after it occurred. But this is renaissance Italy. It’s 1611 and men take what they want. Artemisia’s father would try and arrange a marriage between herself and her tutor in order to save Artemisia’s reputation. She refused. Instead she spoke her truth in an Italian court. But rather than having to prove her rapist’s guilt, she had to prove her innocence.

“Judith Beheading Holofernes”, Begun 1612, finished 1620

In the end Artemisia was proven innocent but it’s almost cost her ability to paint. Her father would soon arrange another marriage for her and she would spend the rest of her life painting some of the most famous works in the world.

That’s the cliff notes version for you**. I could go on but this is a book blog, not an art history blog. But if you are interested in learning more about Artemisia the following link are worth checking out:

Susanna and the Elders, 1610

Blood Water Paint does an excellent job telling Artemisia’s story and it creates a strong connection between Artemisia and the reader. Written in verse, this is a quick read that is also immersive and impossible to but down. I read this book in about 3 hours and it was one of the best books I have ever read. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s perfect for poetry lovers, history lovers, and the #MeToo movement to name a few. If you’re thinking about reading this one, you’ll want to pick it up. You won’t regret it.

Self Portrait, Artemisia as Saint Catherine, 1615-1617

*There were many female artists during the renaissance and throughout history but many remain unknown because the men (their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc.) in their lives took credit for their work. Artemisia’s name survived history for several reasons but perhaps mostly due to her public trial. 

**While I did take several courses which covered Artemisia to varying degrees and am confident in my knowledge, I am in no way an expert on her life and her art. I have done my best here to accurately relate information regarding Artemisia. I have also omitted portions of her story both for brevity and to keep from detailing too much from Blood Water Paint. The links I’ve provided are good sources for basic information on Artemisia, her life, and her art but they are by no means exhaustive. If you would like further, more in depth information on Artemisia, I would get in touch with your local librarian or University if possible. 

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