Giuseppe Marchesi was an Italian painter of the Baroque period. This period of art is characterized by communication of religious themes to the viewer, directly and emotionally – according to my research and limited understanding. The dramatic style of Baroque art was also a way for aristocracy to impress visitors and express their powerful status, similar to the way we buy German cars. That’s a lot of work for a mere piece of art. “Baroque” was initially a derogatory term (meaning imperfect pearl – how insulting!) to underline the eccentricity, redundancy and overwhelming detail of the period – in contrast to the rational, clear and sober style of the Renaissance.
Not much is known about Marchesi, but his appearance must have been impressive; he was given the nickname il Sansone, or “Sampson” apparently because of his imposing physique. Maybe he fancied himself in the role of Holofernes?
This is one of a set of Marchesi paintings about Judith. The other we will see later as I dissect the decapitation and the aftermath. Neither of his works is among my favorites. It’s probably my aversion to Baroque: they are rather boring in the elaborateness that takes the place of expression. If I did not know that Holofernes had just massacred thousands of people, I would say he looks like a pleasant and handsome host. Nice armor, nice robe, nice beard – rather good-looking for a warlord. A little like Ryan Phillippe. And look at that shapely leg! Raising his open hand to say “Hey Jude. Whatever you want. Hang out for a few nights and we can open a jug of wine all the way from Assyria. Maybe I’ll let it go to my head!”
In contrast, Judith appears a little stuck-up. She has on three layers of clothing – and one shoulder hanging out like Jennifer Beals in Flash Dance. She has the jewels and the hairdo. Despite the pleasantry of the host and the view of his shapely calves, she is not even cracking a smile. But she is waving her arms around and gesturing to the town she is pretending to betray.
And the poor maid, groveling off to the side. Yes, Judith has the big ideas, but she has dragged this maid along and made her carry a heavy sack of something. Extra clothing and cosmetics? Or practice for what is to come?
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Book of Judith, Chapter 9
1 JUDITH fell upon her face, and put ashes upon her head, and uncovered the sackcloth wherewith she was clothed; and about the time that the incense of that evening was offered in Jerusalem in the house of the Lord Judith cried with a loud voice, and said,
2 O Lord God of my father Simeon, to whom thou gavest a sword to take vengeance of the strangers, who loosened the girdle of a maid to defile her, and discovered the thigh to her shame, and polluted her virginity to her reproach; for thou saidst, It shall not be so; and yet they did so:
3 Wherefore thou gavest their rulers to be slain, so that they dyed their bed in blood, being deceived, and smotest the servants with their lords, and the lords upon their thrones;
4 And hast given their wives for a prey, and their daughters to be captives, and all their spoils to be divided among thy dear children; which were moved with thy zeal, and abhorred the pollution of their blood, and called upon thee for aid: O God, O my God, hear me also a widow.
5 For thou hast wrought not only those things, but also the things which fell out before, and which ensued after; thou hast thought upon the things which are now, and which are to come.
6 Yea, what things thou didst determine were ready at hand, and said, Lo, we are here: for all thy ways are prepared, and thy judgments are in thy foreknowledge.
7 For, behold, the Assyrians are multiplied in their power; they are exalted with horse and man; they glory in the strength of their footmen; they trust in shield, and spear, and bow, and sling; and know not that thou art the Lord that breakest the battles: the Lord is thy name.
8 Throw down their strength in thy power, and bring down their force in thy wrath: for they have purposed to defile thy sanctuary, and to pollute the tabernacle where thy glorious name resteth and to cast down with sword the horn of thy altar.
9 Behold their pride, and send thy wrath upon their heads: give into mine hand, which am a widow, the power that I have conceived.
10 Smite by the deceit of my lips the servant with the prince, and the prince with the servant: break down their stateliness by the hand of a woman.
11 For thy power standeth not in multitude nor thy might in strong men: for thou art a God of the afflicted, an helper of the oppressed, an upholder of the weak, a protector of the forlorn, a saviour of them that are without hope.
12 I pray thee, I pray thee, O God of my father, and God of the inheritance of Israel, Lord of the heavens and earth, Creator of the waters, king of every creature, hear thou my prayer:
13 And make my speech and deceit to be their wound and stripe, who have purposed cruel things against thy covenant, and thy hallowed house, and against the top of Sion, and against the house of the possession of thy children.
14 And make every nation and tribe to acknowledge that thou art the God of all power and might, and that there is none other that protecteth the people of Israel but thou.