Tuesday, July 26, 2011

People and Their Silly Severed Heads (a Follow-Up)

So let’s be honest: There’s virtually no occasion on which someone be in the presence of a severed human head — theirs or someone else’s — and it doesn’t seem a little awkward. However, if you’re going to be a cephalophore and tote around a head like a big Christmas turnip, you may as well do it in a manner that will be immortalized in art. That’s the lesson we should take away from the Biblical story of Judith, the wily widow who gets an Assyrian general drunk, cuts off his head, and then shows people. The combination of Judith’s virtuous beauty and her raw aggression made the scene of her lopping off Holofernes a popular subject for painters.

See? Lucas Cranach the Elder’s treatment of the subject matter depicts Judith as poised, sly and powerful, whereas Holofernes wears an expression that we can only read as “What, bitch?” Just lovely.


Many chose to depict her carrying away the man’s head in a basket but some of whom instead painted the actual assassination. These ones are the most interesting. 

However, Spencer pointed out to me after me that certain artist’s rendition of Judith and Holofernes made for some interesting projections. Take Caravaggio’s painting.



Holofernes looks shocked, Judith looks like she’s concentrating more on the prevision of the act that the person she’s doing it to and finally Judith’s maid looks as if she’s goading Judith on. That all being said, it’s enlightening to know that, per Wikipedia, Caravggio based Holofernes on himself, Judith on his former mistress and the maid on the mistress’s mother. Which is cute.

Conversely, there’s Artemesia Gentileschi’s treatment of the same scene: the moment of death.


Gentileschi also mapped personalities from her life onto the characters. As Wikipedia points out, Judith looks a lot like Gentileschi herself, while Holofernes looks loopks like Agostino Tassi, a painter in his own right who’s today best known for having raped Gentileschi.

With background like this, I could actually not got tired of looking at biblical paintings by dead Italians.

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