Monthly Archives: September 2011

Judith and the bag of meat

Get comfortable. We are now entering the section tagged the bag.  Because the focus of these works is on getting Holofernes’ head in the bag.  Less focus on the body with the bloody stump – if it is even in the picture at all – and more focus on bagging the trophy head.

How were Judith and the maid able to walk out with a bloody head in a bag?   This is clever:  because they entered the camp with a bag of bloody meat – so that prissy little Judith could have her own food.  Therefore, the maid had been carrying a bag of bloody meat for several days and no one had a second thought when she emerged with the same ol’ stinky bag.

Andrea Mantegna, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1495, Egg-tempera on wood, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA

Andrea Mantegna really liked Judith.  Really, really, really, really liked Judith (but still not as much as Lucas Cranack the Elder).

Andrea Mantegna, “Judith with the head of Holofernes,” 1491, Pen, brown ink, over chalk, on white, now yellowed paper, 38.8 x 25.8 cm, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Mantegna was first a sculptor, and the stony figures of his paintings indicate the influence of sculpting on his style.  These paintings of Judith with her maid were all completed at the end of his career and have a similar composition:  the maid standing next to Judith holding an open bag to receive the severed head that Judith holds by the hair.  Sort of like Trick or Treat.

Andrea Mantegna, “Judith with Her Maidservant Abra,” 1450-1500, Oil on canvas, 65.3 x 31.4 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

A couple of other significant points about Mantegna.   He was one of the first to depict the maid as “a woman of color”.   And he was also one of the first to give her the name of Abra.   What did he know that we don’t know?

Andrea Mantegna, “Judith with Her Maidservant Abra,” c. 1495, Oil on canvas, 48.1 x 36.7 cm, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

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Book of Judith, Chapter 13

10 And she put it in her bag of meat: so they twain went together according to their custom unto prayer: and when they passed the camp, they compassed the valley, and went up the mountain of Bethulia, and came to the gates thereof.

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Story


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Now for something completely different (XI)

Humor in the 1940’s was so … simple.  Not in a good way.

A Date With Judy (1949, vol. 11)

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Oh my stars!  How could I have forgotten this famous Judy!!

Judy Robinson (aka Marta Kristen) of Lost in Space (1965-1967).   Not the main character or even a secondary character.   She was usually back in the Jupiter 2 making out with Don when the action started.  And to think this show was written with a blast-off for Alpha Centauri on October 16, 1997.

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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in something completely different


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Judith in Black and White

Oooooh. These are gooood.

Thomas Theodor Heine, “Judith,” 1908, 10 plates and 10 text vignettes for Friedrich Hebbel’s “Judith” (1841) tragedy in five acts. Munich, H. Weber

These illustrations are the work of Thomas Theodor Heine, a successful German artist known for the satirical Munich magazine Simplicissimus.    In this publication, he applied Jugendstil (“youth style” aka Art Nouveau) following the influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley and Japanese woodcuts. (1)

Art Nouveau appeals to me in general for the stylistic, fluid lines and fantastical imagery.   Okay, okay – yes it sexualizes Judith in a way I have objected to in the past.   Like yesterday.   But the point of my objection was the lack of power in the depiction.   Steck’s Judith was nothing other than sexual where Heine’s Judith is slinky AND has umphf – the intent to use that sword as she slithers into Holofernes’ bed.   The victorious smirk-over-her shoulder that says “I win. You lose.”

Simple, elegant, cartoonish but effective.

The play that this illustrates is Hebbel’s Judith (1840, tr. 1914) introduced a new type of tragic character – heroic through degradation and retribution rather than through virtue.   His historical and biblical dramas were the basis for operas by Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner, and Emil von Reznicek composed in 1922 an opera Holofernes after Hebbel’s play.   Where this gets really interesting is when Freud is introduced.

The taboo of virginity has been depicted (Darstellung) most powerfully of all in a well-known dramatic character, that of Judith in Hebbel’s tragedy. ‘ The writer, with ‘the fine perception of a poet … sensed the ancient motive, which had been lost in the tendentious narrative [of the Old Testa­ment] … What is projected into the external world bears witness to what has been erased from consciousness. This means that the literary text can only ‘depict’ the taboo of virginity if one also allows this text itself to be subjected to an analytic interpretation. tlolofernes’ decapitation is only a symbolic substitute for castration in the eyes of someone who already accepts the symbolism of dreams. (2)

Wha ….?  Castration?

Woman is different from man, strange and therefore apparently hostile. The man is afraid of being weakened by the woman, Infected wIth her femininity and of then showing himself incapable.  the effect which coitus has of discharging tensions and causng flaccidity may be the prototype of what the man fears. (3)

Let me review.   Based on Hebble’s reinterpretation of the Judith story (which I am now dying to read), we have an impotent bridegroom, a sexually frustrated virgin who becomes a widow, and then she transforms seduction from sin into virtuous act that allows her to work out her anger on Holofernes – symbolically severing his head instead of his penis.

Hmmmm…. may have lost some squeamish readers over that.


(1) Sepp Kern, “Heine, Thomas Theodor,” Grove Art OnlineOxford University Press
(2) Sarah Kofman, Freud and Fiction, Polity Press (1974)
(3) Sigmund Freud, The Taboo of Virginity (Contributions to the Psychology of Love III), (1918, p, 198).

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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Story


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Judith in a Red Sash

Here is Judith in a brilliant red sash.  And nothing else – except a skirt that is impossibly thin.   Standing in front of an impossibly pink drape.

Paul Albert Steck , “Judith,” 1885, Oil on canvas, private collection

This is the work of Paul Albert Streck, an Academic French artist at the Fin de siècle.   He was a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme, who produced some of the most luminous paintings of history, myth and Oriental subjects of that period.   As a girl, I was entranced by Mythology, and Gérôme’s depiction of Pygmalion and Galatea caught my attention for its fanciful theme.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, “Pygmalion and Galatea,” 1865-70, oil on canvas, 88.9 x 68.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, USA

But back to Judith.   Not one of my favorite portrayals of her.   If you recall, I was looking for righteous anger and powerful retribution – which is entirely missing here.    Without a doubt, it is a beautiful painting of a woman, but she looks like a simpering concubine who just happened to find a severed head.   “Eeeuw!  who left that on my new tiger skin rug??”   No sword, no blood, no triumph.   Except for the head, how do I even know this is Judith?

Plus, the pink drape is making me wonder about Holofernes’ taste in decor …

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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Whorey


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Judith sends a thank-you note

Pedro Americo, "Judith Gives Thanks to Jehovah," 1880, Oil on canvas, 170x98 cm, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Dear Jehovah,

Thanks so much for helping me with the beheading thing. The wine was a great idea and made the whole interaction more festive. It was also handy to have the big sword above the bed. And as You can see, no blood spatter on my blouse or stains on my hands! I could not have accomplished this without You. The People of Bethulia will be so pleased.

Your faithful servant,

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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Glory


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Judith stands up

For a change-up, I will now look at Judith standing on Holofernes’ head.  Yes, that’s right.  Throws the head on the ground and stands on it.   Given the times in which it was painted, the concept is revolutionary.

Giorgione seems to have started the trend.   And I find his depiction to be exquisite.

Giorgione (Giorgio da Castelfranco), “Judith,” c.1504, Oil on canvas, transferred from panel, 144 × 66.5 cm, Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Russia

Giorgione is a rather mysterious character.   His name sometimes appears as Zorzo or Zorzon, which translates to “Big George.”   He was known for the “elusive poetic quality of his work” although only about six surviving paintings are known to be his products with certainty.   He is also credited with introducing a new range of subjects beyond altarpieces and portraits:  pictures that told no story (biblical or classical) or told stories in form and color with lyrical or romantic feeling rather than actions.

Judith” is one of the six paintings known to be Giorgione’s. “The concept of idealized beauty is evoked in a virginally pensive Judith from the Hermitage Museum, a large painting which exhibits Giorgione’s special qualities of color richness and landscape romance, while demonstrating that life and death are each other’s companions rather than foes.” (1)

Strange … I thought Judith looked totally triumphant rather than pensive or companionable.   The message I got was “Listen shit-head, you messed with my People and now I am using your head as a football.  I can swing you around by your hair all I want, but today I am putting you lower than the lowly so I can place my foot where your neck used to be – just to feel what it is like to be truly on top.  And don’t even THINK about looking up my dress.”

(1)  Wikipedia: Giorgione

For a comparison of Judith to Angelina Jolie, see Jonathan Jones’ article, What Angelina Jolie’s leg has in common with Renaissance art, The Guardian, February 29 , 2012

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Glory


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Judith throws a Party

Well … now we have some light on the subject. assuming you still want this scene in full lighting.

Alberto Ziveri, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1943, Collection of Luisa & Giuseppe Natale, Rome, Italy

Alberto Zivero is a modern Italian artist, known for realistic narrative – depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life rather than idealized for the sake of art.   This style debuted in 1938 at the Biennale di Venezia XXI, and Zivero declared realism was “moral” because it reflects the suffering, violence and loneliness that are part of everyday images.    At this time, he embarked on depictions of intense self-portraits, portraits of soldiers, meat markets, religious processions, and brothels,

“The newly acquired freedom leads him to experience more lightness and richness in the palette, with shades of green or black, in the manner of Rembrandt or Goya, to discover how to deal with psychology, nudity, sensual light of the skin.” (1)

He won third prize in the Fourth Quadriennale (1943) in Rome with this painting, before being drafted for the military.

We can be fairly certain this is not a religious procession, so I am definitely going with the brothel-vibe.   Partly the nudity, partly the number of women in the background (that’s a new twist).   Plus Judith is giving the insolent look that says “whaddaya want?”  like any professional sex-worker who has been interrupted on the job.

Does it add to the understanding of Judith? Not for me.   Does it demonstrate his discovery of sensual light on the skin?  Definitely.  Is it an example of realism?  Probably more realism than I needed to know.

Especially when I can look at my own flabby ass in the mirror if that’s what I really needed to see.

(1) translated from the blog InesAlberto Zivero (September 9, 2009)


Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Cacciatore


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Judith in the dark

Have mercy, can it get any darker?    I am worried if the one little candle goes out, someone is likely to drop the head.   And when it rolls away in the deep blackness, then what?

Antoine Coypel, “Judith And Holofernes,” c.1681-1720, oil on canvas, 23 x 18 cm, auctioned by Sotheby’s 12/14/2000 (Lot 227)

I will say this:  Judith looks very strong in this depiction – both physically and mentally.  Holding the sword upright, she appears to be alert, capable and prepared.

But her face indicates doubt or anxiety about the moment in which she finds herself.   She looks into the darkness behind the head of the maid.

  • Perhaps recalling – “That tent is where we left the body”  and hoping to create some distance.
  • Her concern could be temporal.  With the understanding that she cannot make time go back, now that the deed is done  –  “It was just moments ago he was snoring like a wild boar. (sigh) I miss that gut-wrenching nasal melody.”
  • Maybe she is reacting to the maid placing the head under her elbow – “How many times have I told you – no decaying body parts under my arm.  It seriously limits my range of motion and could cause a rash.”
  • Or she may sense there is danger in that direction.

No problem. She still has the sword.   And once they blow that candle out, who can find them anyway?

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Story


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Judith in White

This painting amuses me.

I know it is only art – it does not have to be realistic or accurate or even remotely possible in real life.  But my immediate reaction to this rendering of Judith is “Young lady, go change your clothes right this minute. You are going to ruin that dress with what you have planned!”

Eglon van der Neer, “Judith,” c.1678, oil on oak, 32 x 24.6 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK

This is the work of Eglon van der Neer, so I suppose his excuse for dressing Judith in white is that he is a man. But white?  Seriously?  Everyone knows that red would be a much better choice for a beheading – a very dark red.  And it is not just the dress.  It is also her posture – for which I do fault the artist.   The position of her hand on her chest is clearly a gesture that says “Who?? Me???”  –  as if butter would not melt in her mouth and she could easily get away with murder.

However, in defense of van der Neer, it is probable that this is less about Judith and more about the portrait of a young woman of the German court who insisted on wearing white silk in her role as Biblical Butcher.  Van der Neer was court painter to the Elector Palatine (aka Prince of a German palatine), in which he received a salary to paint portraits members of the royal family.  As noted by the National Gallery of London where the painting resides, “The prominence of the figure of Judith, the portrait character of her face, her dress, and the subsidiary position of the maid and the head of Holofernes make it likely that this is a portrait of a young woman in the guise of the Jewish heroine.” (1)

In truth, I had not initially placed this work with the other depictions of the head being separated from the body because I thought it failed my criteria: including the body as part of the scene.   However, a closer observation revealed Holofernes body is in the corner. which leads me to conjecture this is really a depiction of Judith in a supervisory role.   As opposed to digging in up to her elbows as in Gentileschi’s or Caravaggio’s rendition, this Judith told the maid to pack up the tools, cut through the neck, remove the head and put it in the bag – all while she watched from the comfort of a chair, far away from the blood spatter.

(1) The National Gallery, Judith by Eglon Hendrik van der Neer.

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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Cacciatore


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Judith takes the spotlight

The last Gentileschi. I’ll miss her.

This painting was produced during Artemesia’s time in Rome, after she left Florence – and her husband.  She had enjoyed highs and lows of success in Florence, being the first woman honored with the admission in the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) along with Michelangelo, Bronzino, Vasari, Tintoretto and many other celebrated artists of the day.  Her mastery of chiaroscuro and tenebrism were likely acquired in Rome at this time, as are demonstrated in this artwork.

Artemesia Gentileshi, “Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes,” 1625, Oil on canvas, 72 3/8 x 55 3/4 in, Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan, USA

In this setting, Judith shields her face against a bright light coming from the left – presumably, the exit from the tent.  I hope she is finding an exit:  this movement from bloody bed to bag of meat and onto the road to Bethulia is taking a damn long time.  My nerves are frayed.

As we leave this scene with Artemesia (and her father), I will add some levity by sharing another take on Judith that derives from the artwork of the past few days.

deridolls, “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” October 2010,

Awwwwwwww.  Just what you want to snuggle with on a cold winter night.

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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Cacciatore


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