Judith & Holofernes

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Erik van den Ham on September 3, 2011

Judith & Holofernes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530. The account of the beheading of Holofernes by Judith is given in the deuterocanonical book of Judith, and is the subject of numerous depictions in painting and sculpture. In the story, Judith, a beautiful widow, is able to enter the tent of Holofernes because of his desire for her. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who was about to destroy Judith's home, the city of Bethulia, though the story is emphatic that no "defilement" takes place. Overcome with drink, he passes out and is decapitated by Judith; his head is taken away in a basket (often depicted as carried by an elderly female servant). Artists have mainly chosen one of two possible scenes (with or without the servant): the decapitation, with Holofernes prone on the bed, or the heroine holding or carrying the head.

In European art, Judith is very often accompanied by her maid at her shoulder, which helps to distinguish her from Salome, who also carries her victim's head on a silver charger (plate). However, a Northern tradition developed whereby Judith had both a maid and a charger, famously taken by Erwin Panofsky as an example of the knowledge needed in the study of iconography. For many artists and scholars, Judith was a character whose sexualized femininity interestingly and sometimes contradictorily combined with her masculine aggression. Judith was one of the virtuous women whom Van Beverwijck mentioned in his published apology (1639) for the superiority of women to men, and a common example of the Power of Women iconographic theme in the Northern Renaissance.

Judith and Holofernes, the famous bronze sculpture by Donatello, bears the implied allegorical subtext that was inescapable in Early Renaissance Florence, that of the courage of the commune against tyranny. Early Renaissance images of Judith tend to depict her as fully dressed and de-sexualized; besides Donatello's sculpture, this is the Judith seen in Sandro Botticelli's The Return of Judith to Bethulia (1470-1472) and in the corner of Michelangelo's Sistine chapel (1508-1512). Later Renaissance artists, notably Lucas Cranach the Elder, showed a more sexualized Judith, a "seducer-assassin": "the very clothes that had been introduced into the iconography to stress her chastity become sexually charged as she exposes the gory head to the shocked but fascinated viewer," in the words of art critic Jonathan Jones.

Italian painters of the Renaissance who painted the theme include Botticelli, Giorgione, Titian, and Paolo Veronese.

Especially in Germany an interest developed in female "worthies" and heroines, to match the traditional male sets. Subjects combining sex and violence were also popular with collectors. Like Lucretia, Judith was the subject of a disproportionate number of old master prints, sometimes shown nude. Barthel Beham engraved three compositions of the subject, and other of the "Little Masters" did several more. Jacopo de' Barberi, Girolamo Mocetta (after a design by Andrea Mantegna), and Parmigianino also made prints of the subject.

Baroque depictions

Judith remained popular in the Baroque period; Salome even more so. Italian painters including Caravaggio, Leonello Spada, and Bartolomeo Manfredi depicted Judith and Holofernes; and in the north, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, and Eglon van der Neer used the story. The influential composition by Cristofano Allori (c. 1613 onwards), which exists in several versions, copied a conceit of Caravaggio's recent David with the Head of Goliath; the head is a portrait of the artist, Judith his ex-mistress, and the maid her mother. In Artemisia Gentileschi's painting Judith Slaying Holofernes (Naples) it is Judith who is the self-portrait, while Holofernes resembles her rapist Agostino Tassi. Like Caravaggio in his Judith Slaying Holofernes of 1612 she chooses to show the actual moment of the killing. A different composition in the Pitti Palace in Florence shows a more traditional scene with the head in a basket.

When Rubens began commissioning reproductive prints of his work, the first was an engraving by Cornelius Galle, done "somewhat clumsily," of his violent Judith Slaying Holofernes (1606-1610). Other prints were made by such artists as Jacques Callot. In music the account of Judith is the theme of the oratorio Juditha Triumphans, by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.

Modern depictions

The allegorical and exciting nature of the Judith and Holofernes scene continues to inspire artists. In the late nineteenth century, Jean Charles Cazin made a series of five paintings tracing the narrative and giving it a conventional, nineteenth-century ending; the final painting shows her "in her honored old age," and "we shall see her sitting in her house spinning."

Two notable paintings of Judith were made by Gustav Klimt. The story was quite popular with Klimt and his contemporaries, and he painted Judith I in 1901, as a dreamy and sensual woman with open shirt. His Judith II (1909) is "less erotic and more frightening." The two "suggest 'a crisis of the male ego,' fears and violent fantasies all entangled with an eroticized death, which women and sexuality aroused in at least some men around the turn of the century."

Very modern versions often freely reinterpret the elements. For instance, in 1997, Russian artists Vitaliy Komar and Alexander Melamed produced a Judith on the Red Square which "casts Lenin in the Holofernes role, conquered by a young Russian girl who contemplates his severed head with a mixture of curiosity and satisfaction." (However, please note that the painting actually depicts a young girl holding the head of Stalin, not Lenin). In 1999, American artist Tina Blondell rendered Judith in watercolor; her I'll Make You Shorter by a Head is explicitly inspired by Klimt's Judith I, and part of a series of paintings called Fallen Angels

Laura Fokkema on September 3, 2011

Jammer dat ze haar zwaard mist, maar verder een heel fraai beeld. Laura

bdeh on September 4, 2011

Hele MOOIe opname tegen die blauwe lucht Erik. Heldhaftige dame. Groeten Berend

Geerten on September 4, 2011

ik heb meegezonden in de Juditha van Vivaldi, een heel mooi stuk!! mooi beeld.

Nadia Kushnir on September 4, 2011

wow/// ......LIKE!

Erik van den Ham on September 5, 2011

Nou Laura alsof dit nog niet gewelddadig genoeg is?

Ja dit is er één van het type dat je beter te vriend kan houden Berend. Holofernus is letterlijk voor haar 'gevallen'.

Ik vermoed dat je hebt meegezongen Geerten.... en ook dit vind ik best een mooi 'stuk', zo'n ontwapenende dame!

Thanks Nadia for the Like and WOW!

Galishev Pavel on September 15, 2011

Очень интересно!!!!!! Мне нравится эта фотография! LIKE

С самыми добрыми пожеланиями

Pavel Galishev

Robin Velderman on September 15, 2011

Judith staat lekker te knallen tegen die heerlijk blauwe lucht. Mooie plaat!

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  • Uploaded on September 3, 2011
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    by Erik van den Ham