The paintings are strikingly beautiful, as powerful women from the Bible exact their revenge. They’re works by the painter Artemesia Gentileschi, one of the more successful women painters at the time of Caravaggio. The painter herself is the subject of an opera called Artemesia by Laura Schwendinger, which will be performed by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in performances at Z Space this weekend.

There’s more information about the performances at the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble website.

“That name should be in the pantheon with Caravaggio, since she was by all estimations, probably one of the most important followers of Caravaggio,” Laura Schwendinger says. “I came to know Artemesia’s work through a couple of galleries that I visited in Italy when I was 18. I wondered who is this person? Then I read about her, and I read about her extraordinarily dramatic life, and I thought, this is someone who everyone should know.” The artist is the protagonist for the chamber opera, which follows her career from the traumatic experience of a rape at 17 to her learning she’s losing her eyesight as she gets older. “Her father was also a known painter, and he hired this man, Agostino Tossi, who was another known painter, to tutor his daughter in perspective. And he came to the house, and one day planned this rape of Artemesia… They tortured her to verify her testimony. They literally used thumbscrews on her so her fingers were broken, and she was a painter. I mean, it’s just amazing that somehow she was able to continue after that. It’s also an extraordinary thing that a man would be put on trial in the early 1600s for a rape, and would be found guilty.” Her paintings frequently show empowered women, like the Bible’s Judith and Jael, each of whom is depicted killing a man. That the women look like Artemesia and the men look like her rapist is no accident. “It’s clear that she was working through this through her art in the way that she could.” The other work on the program this weekend is Christopher Stark’s From the Field, a ‘micro-opera’ about another pioneering woman artist, photographer Dorothea Lange.