Judith and hot wax

04 Aug

This setting has a very theatrical look with the heavy red drapes.  The encroaching darkness. the dripping candle wax.  Wait … didn’t Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke do that in Nine 1/2 Weeks?

Trophime Bigot, “Judith,” c. 1640, oil on canvas, 125.7 x 196.8 cm, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

This is the work of Trophime Bigot, a French painter who confused everyone due to two factors: he did not sign his work (duh) and he changed his style between Italian and French audiences.   It was conjectured that he was actually two different people, maybe father and son.   But it is now agreed there was only one Trophime (1).

In Rome of the 1620s after studying Caravaggio’s tenebrism, Bigot was known as “Master of the Candlelight” — specializing in naturalistic, close-up scenes lit by a single source of illumination.   “Judith” is just this type of composition, with the candlelight focusing the emotional tension on the three main characters — acting out their parts in the depth of night.

Not unlike other artists of this period, the Judith shown by Bigot is rather methodical and unemotional about her task: “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”   In contrast, the maid seems a little more intent on the technique: “Looks like you severed the jugular and you are on your way to the spinal column.  I can hold the candles a little closer so you can finish him off while I hold down his flailing arm.”  and I suppose we can all guess at Holofernes’ thoughts.  Not a bad composition if you prefer your decapitations by candlelight.

(1) Anthony Blunt, Richard Beresford, Art and architecture in France, 1500-1700, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 291.

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I was mistaken about that movie:  it was Body of Evidence (1993) with Madonna and Willem Defoe.   I would embed the video rather than teasing you with a photo but I have some limits to my depravity.

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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Gory


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