Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi (Valentina Cervi), the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a renowned Italian painter, exhibits her father’s talent and is encouraged by her father, who has no sons and wishes his art to survive after him. However, in the chauvinistic world of the early 17th century, Italian women are forbidden to paint human nudes or enter the Academy of Arts. Orazio allows his daughter to study in his studio, although he draws the line at letting her view, nude males. She is direct and determined and bribes the fisherman Fulvio with a kiss to let her observe his body and draw him.
Artemisia seeks the tutelage of Agostino Tassi (Mike Manojlovic), her father’s collaborator in painting frescoes, to learn from him the art of perspective. Tassi is a man notorious for his night-time debauchery. The two hone their skills as artists, but they also fall in love, and their relationship moves into the realm of physical pleasure. Artemisia’s father spots the couple making love and files a lawsuit against Tassi for rape. In the subsequent trial, Artemisia’s physical state is investigated by two nuns, and then she is tortured by thumbscrews. Nevertheless, even under torture, Artemisia denies being raped and proclaims their mutual love. Tassi himself, devastated by her plight, admits to raping her in order to stop her ordeal.
Merlet said of her film, “I didn’t want to show her as a victim but like a more modern woman who took her life into her own hands.”