Monthly Archives: August 2011

Judith shakes her Pom-Poms

Let’s give her a J-U-D and an I-T-H. Go Judith, go. YEAH!!

Nicola Vaccaro , “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1680,198 x 254 cm, auctioned by Blanchet 11/18/2009 (Lot 38). 

Frankly, I came upon this painting rather late and had to come back to make room for it.   But it clearly fits within dissection.   And I came upon it by accident while searching for images of another painting – realizing i had not seen it before.  Of course, it appears there are hundreds of Judith’s out there I have never seen before.  Maybe if I had known that, I would have put this project together a little differently.   But nawh, this story-telling format works for me. (And it is all about me, to be sure)

So you are still wondering about the Pom-Poms.

Pom-pom or Pom-pon is derived from the French word “pompon” meaning tassel and refers to ornamental spheres of fabric, feathers, etc.   Basically, it’s a decorative ball of fluff.   Cheerleaders use pom-poms to attract the attention of a crowd, accentuate movements, and add an element of sparkle to a cheer, chant, or cheer/dance routine.   It is likely that Judith has strategically placed pom-poms in her hair in order to distract Holofernes and to add sparkle to his decapitation.

While this is not the bloodiest amputation we have seen, it is horrific in the way the Judith covers Holofernes’ mouth while the blade is half-way through his neck.   His hand grasping her forearm in a defensive move.   I still don’t understand why he is laying there and not struggling with his entire body but … hey, when you’re tired, you’re tired.  And yes the maid is leaning on his torso, but I suspect he could flick her off like a flea.

At least her participation shows it’s a team effort.


Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Gory


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Now for something completely different (VIII)

Yes, red is a good color. Much better than blue. Shows less red wine stains. Or blood …

A Date With Judy (1948, vol. 8)

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From a teenage girl of 1948 to a teenager of 2062 – Judy Jetson.


Judy Jetson



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Judith and the cross-dresser

Even though Judith is in a blue dress again, I really like this portrayal.  I’m not even sure why.

Guido Cagnacci, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c.1650, Oil on canvas, 103.5 x 136.5 cm, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, Italy

This is the work of Guido Cagnacci, who started out painting devotional subjects, but moved to Venice under the name of Guico Baldo Canlassi da Bologna.  At the point, he became dedicated to private salon paintings of sensuous naked women.  In 1628, he tried to force a widowed noblewoman’s family to consent to marriage by eloping.  However, the plan failed – resulting in departure from his home in Rimini and long-lasting effects on his career.  Some contemporaries described him as eccentric, unreliable and of doubtful morality – enjoying the company of cross-dressing models (1).

Cross-dressing models?  Like RuPaul?  Hmmmm …. no, I don’t see that in this painting.  But then again … maybe the cross-dressing model is really good.

What I do see is a young woman who is literally and figuratively looking over her shoulder. Who is going through something horrific and seems desperate to make an escape.  Who is not exulting in her actions, but seems ambivalent: “I did it, it was terrifying, I know I needed to do it, but this part really sucks.”  All in a lovely Venetian-style blue dress.

(1) Vertova, Luisa (1993). “Guido Cagnacci. Rimini”. The Burlington Magazine (The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd.) 135 (1088: Nov.): p. 784

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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Gory


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Judith in another Blue Dress

This portrait of Judith is out of order, since it shows no severance of body or head.  It is here because I have to ask: What is it with blue?  I mean, I like blue – but OMG, why is blue the color of every other dress that Judith is wearing – if she is wearing clothes at all?

Felice Ficherelli, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c. 1665, oil on canvas, 98.5 x 75.6 cm , The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL , USA

As you might suspect, there is an answer for that question. Before the mid-19th century Industrial Revolution, blue was an expensive color. The only way to achieve a deep rich blue was by using a lapis lazuli to produce a pigment known as ultramarine. Lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone ($$$) and the best sources of lapis were far away from Europe ($$$). To use ultramarine blue was expensive and if an art patron commissioned a painting with blue, they had to pay extra (1). Thus dressing Judith in blue meant she was wealthy, and by association, the patron was wealthy ($$$$$$).

Little is known about the artist, Felice Ficherelli, other than 1) he had a retiring nature that resulted in his nickname, il Riposo, and b) his qualities are evidenced in his art.  His most original works were easel pictures, for private collectors, often of cruel and violent subjects, which he interpreted with a morbid sensuality and ambiguous tenderness (2).  But this work is not cruel or violent – even though the backstory is cruel and violent, as many other artist chose to demonstrate. No, Ficherelli gives us Judith as a portrait – as this painting may well be.

Ficherelli chooses to portray Judith in the moments just after she has beheaded Holofernes with his own sword. Though she still remains in the Assyrian camp, her face betrays no fear.  Rather, it is radiant, becoming the source of the light that creates the aura of the heroine about her head; she is thus apart from her maidservant who represents all other women.  The severed head of Holofernes has lost its light completely and would not be visible did it not catch a little of the light from Judith’s face. (3)

Wait … there is a severed head in there?!

(1) Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of a Color. Princeton University Press, 2001
(2) Oxford Grove Art: Felice Ficherelli
(3) M. Therese Southgate, The art of JAMA: one hundred covers and essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 2. Surendra Kumar, 2001.

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Cacciatore


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Judith and the Awkward Family Photo

David Teniers the Younger, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c.1650, Oil on copper, 36.8 x 26.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

David Teniers the Younger (DTY) was the son of Flemish artist David Teniers the Elder (DTE), and his son David Teniers III and grandson David Teniers IV were also painters.    His wife Anna was the daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder (JBE) and the granddaughter of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (PBE)  –  and she was also the ward of Peter Paul Rubens (PPR).    Geesh, I need to get out a Family Tree database to follow this.

This painting is not the best known of DTY’s work but it was painted during a period of highly-valued work (1645-1650).    DTY was known as a prolific painter in fact, over his lifetime producing more than 900 paintings.    Some were executed within a day and became know as “afternoons”  –  not for the subject but for the time he spent on them.

And not to be confused with “nooners.”  Because no one wants to be confused about that.

The placement in this composition is a little strange for my taste.    Sort of like those photographs your family took as “candid shots,” in which the main subjects are cut off at the hip but there is plenty of ceiling.    Also awkward because there is a headless body in the background.   If only Judith had moved a little to the left …

Anna Brueghel, the artist’s wife, is said to be the model for Judith:   however, DTY is not the model for Holofernes (1).    It does look like a portrait, so I wonder who it is?   Someone DTY did not like?    And the maid is depicted as ancient.  Let’s hope that was not modeled on his mother-in-law.  that could get REALLY awkward.

(1) Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 258–59; vol. 2, pl. 98

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Gory


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Judith and the ham

A) I know I am irreverent, and B) I know I have complained about the over-exposed soft tissues in previous posts but … being totally honest here … it looks like Judith just sliced a ham.

Francesco del Cairo, “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” 1648-1654, Musee de Beaux Art, Dunkirk, France

Not that there is anything wrong with that (unless you are keeping Kosher).   Except the effort seems to have made her very tired.   In fact, the maid appears to be concerned that Judith may keel over after she drops the head in the bag.

In fact, this painting is putting me to sleep.

It has no surprises and no emotion.   What it does have is an enormous dress that is surprisingly devoid of stains.   Heck, wearing that heavy dress could be the reason that Judith is so tired.   That and having a big dinner, where I hope they did not serve ham.

And if that painting did not induce somnolence, this one surely will.

attributed to Francesco del Cairo,”Judith and Holofernes,” Oil on canvas, 78 x 96 cm., auctioned by Sotheby’s 6/13/2007 (Lot 3)

Yes, it belongs back with the portrayals of the dissection, but … dang … I cannot even figure out what is going on in this scene because it is so dark.   Holofernes appears to be groping the maid with one hand, while she is holding his head back to expose his neck with her left and the candle with her right hand.    He is grasping Judith’s arm with his other hand as she single-handedly wields the knife at his throat with her right.     That’s a lot of hands in a small space.    And those two women must be incredibly strong to hold him with just two hands in total.

I mean, look what Dexter has to go through to restrain his victims with all that tape  –  and he kills them before he dismembers them.

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Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Story


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Judith drops the ball

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.


I resume
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.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Gory


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