Judith in the Lion’s Court

11 Aug

Once upon a time in a castle in Northern Italy — on a river, near the Alps — there lived an artist named Girolamo Romanino, who frescoed.   and frescoed.  And frescoed.  And left behind lovely images along the the loggia in the Lions’ Court (Cortile dei Leoni) to delight the Prince-Bishops of Italy and Austria.  Including a fresco of Judith and a bloody stump.

Girolamo Romanino, “Judith,” c. 1530, fresco, Buonconsiglio Castle, Loggia del Cortile dei Leoni, Trento, Italy

Imagine strolling through the courtyard on your way to dinner.   The weather is warm and humid, and you are tired and a little queasy.   They are serving fish as the first course, with mutton as the main course, maybe some brussel sprouts in-between — and the kitchen smells are hanging low in the heavy air.   You had a little too much wine with your late afternoon Happy Hour.   Your head aches — and as you stagger through the loggia, you look up to see Judith and the exposed, seeping viscera of Holofernes’ neck as she tucks his severed head into a bag.


I suppose High Renaissancians were not troubled with this kind of thing.  But for one who has only handled meat wrapped in plastic from a cold case, it takes awhile to get used to carnage.

So let’s change the subject to frescos.

Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster walls or ceilings.  The word fresco comes from the Italian affresco which derives from Latin for “fresh.”   Fresco may be:

  • buon fresco (pigment mixed with water painted on a thin layer of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster – aka intonaco)
  • a secco (pigment with a binding medium, such as egg (tempera), glue or oil to attach to dry plaster)
  • mezzo-fresco (painted on nearly-dry intonaco so that the pigment penetrates slightly into the plaster)
I will summarize the rest of this to say:   frescoes sound like a lot of work and I can see why they are rarely done any more.  Especially when our culture has trouble waiting for paint to dry.   So I applaud Romanino and all the other frescoists for creating works of art we may never see attempted again.  Even if I would prefer the sanitized version.
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Posted by on August 11, 2011 in Gory


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