I wanted to use this painting earlier, but thought it best to leave it with its contemporaries. The reason I thought it deserved an earlier place in the story? Holofernes’ head has just fallen to the floor and Judith seems to be saying “Ooops! didn’t really mean to do that but could you pick it up?”
Furini Francesco, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1636, oil on canvas, 116 x 151 cm,Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy
I like this piece because it retains many of the familiar elements of the Judith story (the sword, the maid, the drapery, the armor, the headless body and the bodiless head) but it adds a moment not seen before. The moment of hesitation after the act. The moment it is done and Judith recoils from the next action. She gestures for the maid to step in, leaving us to wonder about her motivation. Exhaustion? Regret? Fear? Disgust? Or maybe she just does not do housework? (although she did cover up the bloody stump – thank you, God)
Francesco Furini was himself an example of contradiction and ambivalence. At the age of forty, he became a priest — after having lived a secular life. His artistic work was caught in the middle of the conservative, Mannerist style of Florence and the novel Baroque styles. Freedberg (1) describes Furini’s style as filled with “morbid sensuality”: His polished style and poses contrasted with his expression of excessive emotion, and his disrobed females contrasted with his excessive religious sentimentality. His contemporary biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, noted these stylistic choices and asserted that — on his deathbed — Furini ordered all his nude paintings be destroyed. However, modern research found Furini did not abandon his sensual paintings upon entering the priesthood and it is unlikely he made the deathbed request (2). More likely the puritanical Baldinucci made it up.
For a more modern perspective, in poems titled Parleyings With Certain People of Importance in Their Day, Robert Browning envisions Furini’s nude subjects are an icon for the courageous search for hidden truth.
And so we leave Judith, once again between. But at least she has her clothes on.
(1) Freedberg, Sydney J. Pelican History of Art. ed. Painting in Italy, 1500-1600. (1993). Penguin Books Ltd., pp. 344–345,
(2) Toesca, Elena, Francesco Furini, (1950). Roma : Tumminelli.
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Robert Browning, Parleyings With Certain People of Importance in Their Day. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1887.
With Francis Furini.
My incredulity : your other kind
Of soul, Furini, never was so blind,
Even by death-mist, as to grope in gloom
For cheer beside a bonfire piled to tarn
Ashes and dust all that your noble life
Did homage to life’s Lord by, — bid them bum
— These Baldinucci blockheads — pictures rife
With record, in each rendered loveliness,
That one appreciative creature’s debt
Of thanks to the Creator, more or less,
Was paid according as heart’s-will had met
Hand’s-power in Art’s endeavor to express
Heaven’s most consummate of achievements, bless
Earth by a semblance of the seal God set
On woman his supremest work. I trust
Rather, Furini, dying breath had vent
In some fine fervor of thanksgiving just
For this — that soul and body’s power you spent —
Agonized to adumbrate, trace in dust
That marvel which we dream the firmament
Copies in star-device when fancies stray
Outlining, orb by orb, Andromeda —
God’s best of beauteous and magnificent
Revealed to earth — the naked female form.