My friend recently referred to herself as “zaftig.” I have decided that is my new favorite word, preferred to “Rubenesque.” According to Merriam-Webster, it means “of a woman – having a full rounded figure, pleasingly plump.” Zaftig has been in use since the 1930s – deriving from the Yiddish zaftik, which means “juicy” or “succulent.” Well, isn’t that delicious?
How appropriate that a Yiddish term should aptly describe this powerful portrait of Judith.
Giovanni Cariani (c. 1490–1547), Judith, c. 1510-15, Oil on panel. 69 x 56.5cm, Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi private collection
If you have read this blog before, you already know I prefer Judith to be powerful. And rather proud of her accomplishment. But not so proud or pleased that she creates the impression of a malevolent misandrist.
This Judith appears to strike the right balance of strength and resolve, fortitude and purpose. Although her maid may be in disarray and distress, Judith is portrayed as thoughtful and determined — on the way back to Bethulia to display her prize.
(I also love her jaunty pink sash and matching shawl. A heroine must dress the part!)
Compliments for this portrayal go to Giovanni Cariani, a High Renaissance artist style whose is considered a hybrid of his upbringing in Bergamo and training in Venice. He first studied in the studio of Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) — “Father of the Venetian Renaissance” — where he was exposed to the works of other well-known students, most notably Giorgione, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, and Sebastiano del Piombo. The exhibition In the Age of Giorgione (Royal Academy of Arts, London, March 12 to June 5, 2016) examined the various influences that shaped the work of many celebrated names in Renaissance art and, using this Judith as an example, Carina’s style was compared to his contemporaries. As one observer noted –
(In La Vecchia) Giorgione’s lowly sitter maintains a moving quality of self-possession and personal identity, which contrasts with the histrionics of the equivalent figure in Giovanni Cariani’s crude painting of Judith hanging nearby. (1)
Histrionics? HISTRONICS?!! What do you mean HISTRIONICS??!!! She looks remarkably composed, considering she just behead a general in secret and is now covertly carrying his head in a bag past the rest of his army.
Unless … the critic is referring to the maid as the “equivalent figure” to La Vecchia … in which case I would have to agree.
Giorgione (1477-1510), La Vecchia (The Old Woman), c. 1508, Oil on canvas, 68 x 59 cm, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
But back to Cariana. His style could also be compared to Palma il Vecchio (c.1480-1528) and il Pordenone (c.1484-1539) — also of Lombardy and also working in Venice. Palma il Vecchio did not train with Bellini as did Cariana, but he likely studied under Andrea Previtali (c.1480 –1528) – one of Bellini’s students. There is no documentation that the two artists ever studied or worked together, but certainly their style of sturdy figures in pastoral settings is a reflection of their similar paths. In fact, Palma il Vecchio’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes is one of the most zaftig portrayals I have reviewed. Il Pordenone (aka Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis) also portrayed Judith as sturdy – and has the distinction of three different portraits (seen in “Judith gets serious”). Neither did il Pordenone study with Bellini – but he was a rival to Titian. To the point that there was a rumor than Titian poisoned il Pordenone.
And I thought gossip and intrigue were modern inventions. Some things never change.
(1) Tom Nichols, “EXHIBITION REVIEW: Giorgione. London,” The Burlington Magazine, June 2016, No. 1359 – Vol 158.