ART: Ikon displays Italian masterpiece from National Gallery

A 17th century Italian masterpiece has gone on display at Westside’s Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace.

The work by Artemisia Gentileschi was painted c.1615-17 and is on loan from the National Gallery as part of its NG200 bicentenary celebrations. 

The painting, entitled Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, is based on a Christian saint martyred in the early fourth century. It will be on display until 8 September 2024 at Ikon, which is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary year.

Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

The ‘National Treasures’ exhibition quietly opened on 10 May and the Artemisia painting can be seen on Floor 1 at Ikon, alongside new ‘response’ work called Mirror Martyr Mirror Moon by Dublin artist Jesse Jones.

Here, in our exclusive video interview, the Ikon Gallery’s curator Lucy Mountfield explains why you should see the painting, even if you are not familiar with the artist.

Lucy said: “It’s great to have works from the National Gallery disseminated across the UK and particularly here in Birmingham, and we’ve had a fantastic response from visitors so far.

“It’s really important to host a work by a female artist. National collections don’t have a good representation of female artists or artists of colour. With this exhibition, we are changing the way we are thinking about this particular work in general. 

“Normally, it is attached to narratives of victimhood, Artemisia herself having been tortured in a very public rape trial. She’s associating herself with the martyr St Catherine who again was tortured on the wheel that you see in the painting.

“Artemisia herself was a great female artist of her time in a difficult period when women artists had very little access to resources.

Ikon Gallery’s curator Lucy Mountfield.

“Artemisia was generally associated with Caravaggio and I’m thinking about this technique called chiaroscuro which used bold changes in light and tone. Artemisia is often showed and displayed next to Caravaggio [1571-1610]. It’s great to show her on her own to highlight what a great portrait artist she was and artist generally.

“The National Gallery found it very late in 2017 and it wasn’t anywhere grand – just a small room. They were shocked that an Artemisia was there and they didn’t know about it. So it’s certainly a coup to have such a recently-discovered work here.”

Commenting on the ‘response’ work by Dublin artist Jesse Jones, Lucy added: “With Jesse, we were keen to move away from these narratives of victimhood that have been associated with a masculine view of our history. We want people to come in and have their gaze cleansed when they look at their work so they view it anew without any preconceptions of viewing a work by a woman artist.

“The curtain is called The Well of Eels, and shows two collaborators from the Junk Ensemble theatre and dance company. The circular image references an ourorobus – a serpent eating its own tail.

“We think of this cyclical, circular image and the history of art. Jesse is providing us with an alternative way of thinking about the history and really putting women at the forefront.

“It’s great that we can have a work by a master and for Ikon to continue to show historical and contemporary work, particularly after our exhibition of work by Carlo Crivelli back in 2022. I hope we continue to get artists to create interventions and responses to historical work.”

● Ikon Gallery is at 1 Brindleyplace, Oozells Square, Birmingham B1 2HS. Entry is free. Open Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, 11am-5pm. Tel 0121 248 0708 or visit

Photographs and video by Graham Young.


One thought on “ART: Ikon displays Italian masterpiece from National Gallery

  1. Lovely.
    Looking forward to seeing that.

    Thanks for highlighting it.
    The Ikon is such a treasure in Brum.

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