|Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614): Judith and Holofernes. I took this picture in a gallery in Parma, Italy. Fontana is regarded as the first known professional, self-supporting woman artist of the Renaissance. She managed this while mothering 11 children!|
Are you ready for some gore?
|Johann Liss : Judith in the Tent of Holofernes (1622)|
After last week's post on viragos in Victorian art, I had to sideline into the story of Biblical heroine Judith, and her changing portrayal over the centuries. The original story is in the Book of Judith, which is counted as deuterocanonical (it's part of the Catholic and Orthodox bibles, but excluded from the Protestant version). It's very long-winded (full text here) but in summary: Assyrian general Holofernes is rampaging around the land of Judea destroying city after city. Sexy Jewish widow Judith dresses in her best clothes and goes out to the beseiging enemy camp (with one maidservant) promising the Assyrians she will betray her people to them. Holofernes, overwhelmed by her beauty, lets her stay for three days and on the third night she plies him with alcohol.
 So Judith was left alone in the tent , with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was overcome with wine.The Assyrian army panicked and ran, the Israelites chased them down and slaughtered them, and the land was saved.
 So every one went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, "O Lord God of all might, look in this hour upon the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem.  For now is the time to help thy inheritance, and to carry out my undertaking for the destruction of the enemies who have risen up against us."  She went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there.
 She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, "Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!"  And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed it from his body.  Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid,
 who placed it in her food bag.Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to go for prayer; and they passed through the camp and circled around the valley and went up the mountain to Bethulia and came to its gates.
 Judith called out from afar to the watchmen at the gates, "Open, open the gate! God, our God, is still with us, to show his power in Israel, and his strength against our enemies, even as he has done this day!"
|Andrea Mantegna: Judith and Holofernes (1490s)|
This obscure biblical story has received dispropportionate interest from artists. It has sex, tension, courage, gore ... and a really unusual heroine. But early depictions (such as the one above) are at pains to dissociate Judith from any base motive or emotion. She does what she does from a desire to save her people and a loving obedience to God. While not a virgin, she is still spritually "pure".
This didn't last.
|Lucas Cranach the Elder: Judith Victorious (1530ish)|
|Fede Galizia (1578-1630): Judith with the Head of Holofernes|
|Artemisia Gentieschi (1593-1656) : Judith Slaying Holofernes (approx 1612)|
She returned to the subject over and over again:
|Judith and her Maidservant (1613ish)|
|Judith and her Maid with the Head of Holofernes (1612ish)|
|Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620ish)|
|Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holfernes (1599ish)|
|Carlo Saraceni: Judith and the Head of Holfernes (1615)|
Unsurprisingly, the huge majority of depictions of Judith (there are supposedly over 100 paintings and sculptures) emphasise the heroine's sexually alluring qualities.
|August Riedel: Judith (1840)|
|Allori Cristofano: Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1613)|
|Gustav Klimt: Judith 1 (1901)|
|Franz Stuck: Judith (1924)|