Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Posted on June 6, 2019 by Regina | 3 Comments

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughBlood, Water, Paint by Joy McCullough
on March 6, 2018
Pages: 298
Format: Hardcover
Source: the Publisher
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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.

I cannot put it better than Bookpage’s on-point review of Blood Water Paint, but in the spirit of #MeToo, I will share my experience with this novel as well.

Blood Water Paint is a vivid depiction based on facts of Baroque artist Artemesia Gentileschi.

The story immerses the reader in Artemesia’s daily life and most intimate thoughts. Visceral descriptions of what it was like to be a woman, a daughter, and a female artist in the16th century are eerily similar to today’s female experience.

Artemisia Gentileschi – Self-Portrait as a Lute Player Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s a great NPR piece on Artemesia as a Feminist Icon.


The story is narrated by Artemesia and alternates between prose and verse, evoking a sense of synesthesia, a way that Artemesia–and many artists in general–claim to experience the world.

The author sets out to show readers the inspiration behind many of Artemesia’s most famous paintings and to highlight the many trials Artemesia endured and the obstacles she overcame to pursue her passion. The story is character-driven so their is not a ton of world building, but I recommend watching the Netflix series The Medici to get and idea of the culture and aesthetics that influenced Artemesia’s art.

I haven’t read any other books, fiction or nonfiction, about Artemesia, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I am confident that this book measures up to the best of them. The author originally intended this book as a play before committing it to an historical fiction novel, and knowing that beforehand gave the novel a distinct feel for me.

This was (still is) one of my favorite novels of the past year, and I highly recommend it to historical fiction lovers, art enthusiasts, artists, and those who love reading about strong women from history. I would also recommend this book for a book club read. There are a lot of aspects the novel that make for timely and engaging discussion topics.

For Your Enrichment:

Here is the playlist of an album titled What Artemesia Heard: Music and Art from the Time of Caravaggio and Gentileschi. If you are a classical music fan, you will love this album. If you are not a fan, I suggest giving it a try anyway.

For Your Education:

Here is a BBC documentary about Artemisia:


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