Orazio Gentileschi was born in Pisa in 1563 to the Florentine goldsmith Giovanni Battista Lomi. In 1576 or 1578 Orazio moved to Rome, where he assumed the surname of a maternal uncle who was Captain of the Guards at the Castel Sant'Angelo. Nothing is known of Orazio's early training as a painter beyond now discredited reports that he studied with his brother, Aurelio Lomi (1556-1622), a painter trained in the late maniera style of Florence.
In Rome, Orazio is first mentioned as a painter in the large team of artists decorating the Vatican Library in 1588-1589. Throughout the 1590s, he worked on the large collaborative projects that dominated Roman artistic production of the period. Unlike Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640), who quickly distinguished himself in this environment, Orazio remained a competent but undistinguished practitioner of the dominant late maniera style.
It is not entirely clear exactly when Orazio first came into contact with the revolutionary new style of Caravaggio, or precisely when he incorporated the younger Lombard's innovations into his own work. His easel paintings after 1600 clearly begin to adopt Caravaggio's reliance on the model, dramatic lighting, and simplified compositional structures with a restricted number of figures close to the picture plane. Most important for the development of Orazio's style were Caravaggio's private commissions of the 1590's, with their lighter overall tonalities and quieter mood. Orazio may also have known works by the Tuscan reformers, particularly Santi di Tito (1536-1603) and Ludovico Cardi (Il Cigoli, 1559-1613), who at this time were also attempting to overcome late maniera style with increased reference to earlier masters.
After Caravaggio's departure from Rome in 1606, Orazio seems to have adopted a more openly Caravaggesque style, in which he worked until c. 1613. This change in style also brought a shift away from religious commissions to works for the private collectors who had been the first supporters of Caravaggio. Orazio's works of these years tend to place a single monumental figure or restricted figure group in sharp relief before a dark backround or a delicately depicted landscape that owes much to the German painter Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610/1620), then active in Rome.
A turning point in Orazio's career was marked by the trial of 1612, in which his daughter Artemisia (1593-c. 1652) accused Agostino Tassi (1566-1644), a quadratura painter then working with Orazio, of repeatedly ravaging her and reneging on a promise of marriage. Following the trauma and public scandal, Orazio actively sought work outside Rome. He had earlier sent paintings to Ancona, in the Marches, and this success, as well as the connections of his patrons the Borghese and the Savelli, may have helped secure subsequent commissions in Fabriano, beginning with the Chapel of the Crucifixion in San Venanzo. He executed frescoes in the chapel in 1616-1617, following a likely but not securely documented trip to Florence, where Artemisia was then living.
In 1621 Orazio accepted the invitation of a Genoese nobleman, Giovanni Battista Sauli, to work for him in that city. From this point onward, Orazio became primarily a painter for courts and nobility. He appears to have actively pursued an appointment at the court in Turin, where he may have stopped before proceeding to Paris to the court of Marie de'Medici, to whom he had presented a painting. Although he was the leading Italian painter in France, he remained only until 1626, when he left for a post as court painter to Charles I in London, remaining there until his death in 1639. In the works painted for his noble and royal patrons, Orazio shows an even greater tendency toward refinement and often executed several versions of a single composition.
Orazio enjoys special prominence among the many Caravaggesque painters active in the first two decades of the seventeenth century as the first to respond to the new style and because, of all these many artists, he developed the most individual style. Within the ferment of Caravaggesque circles, Orazio's influence is detectable in the works of the Italians Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (c. 1590-1625), Orazio Riminaldi (1593-1630), and Giovann Francesco Guerrieri (1589-1655/1659), as well as Hendrik Terbruggen (1588-1629), through whom he had an impact on painters in Utrecht. Orazio's most prominent student was his daughter Artemisia, who established a successful independent career in Florence, Rome, and later in Naples. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Barroero, Liliano. "Orazio Gentileschi, 1599." Antologia di Belle Arti 5/19-20 (1981): 169-175.
Bissell, R. Ward. Orazio Gentileschi and the Poetic Tradition in Caravaggesque Painting. University Park, Pennsylvania, 1981.
Pizzorusso, Claudio. "Rivedendo il Gentileschi nelle Marche." Notizie da Palazzo Albani 16 (1987): 57-75.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 95-96.