After 18 posts about Judith, she finally gets down to business. And dang, that girl has muscles! Like an Apocryphal Jillian Michaels. She’s scary even without the Big Ass Blade.
This is the work of Giorgio Vasari, a man of many talents. artist, architect, historian, writer. Friend to all the Important People — Michelangelo, Raphael, Cosimo di Medici. He is best remembered for his encyclopedia of artistic biographies, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, and coining the term Renaissance or rebirth of learning after what he saw as the long darkness between the ancient world and the rise of 15th-century Florence. For those fortunate enough to spend time in Florence, he is also responsible for designing the loggia of the Uffizi, that opens the far end of a long narrow courtyard to function as a public piazza and a unique Renaissance street with unified architecture. He also built the long passage (now called Vasari Corridor) which connects the Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti – passing the River Arno on an arcade, crossing the Ponte Vecchio and winding around the exterior of several buildings. And not to forget, he painted some the frescos on the cupola of the Duomo. Yes, he got around to all the important people and places.
In Judith, Vasari expresses the Mannerist view of the human form: vivid color, monumental figures in proportion to the background, compression within the picture space, emphasis of the human body, not always anatomically accurate, and overdeveloped musculature — often to the point of grotesqueness. An improvement upon Renaissance art, Mannerism moved from the literal depiction of nature to the expression of the intellectual ideal of nature (think of the disproportionate size of Michelangelo’s hands on David in comparison to his body). In Vasari’s Judith, he “combines the sensuality of the beautiful female body (Aphrodite-Venus) with the assumed heroic virtu implied by women endowed with the male trait of heroism (Athena-Minerva)” (1).
In order words, she is less sexual and more courageous and moral. She is over the seduction and dealing some righteous shit, appearing as an aggressive Amazon. Vasari even depicted Athena-Minerva on Judith’s cuirass to convey wisdom and power will guide her. Rather than focusing on the violence, this portrayal is transfixed on the underlying motivation for the violence – the virtue of defending the Israelites.
Who knew there was so much going on in one painting? I actually like it more the longer I look at it.
(1) Liana Cheney, Giorgio Vasari’s Teachers: Sacred & Profane Art ” Peter Lang: New York, NY (2007)
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Book of Judith, Chapter 13
8 And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.