Judith with a Pearl Earring

13 Sep

I am not sure why, but this is one of my favorite depictions of Judith.  But I think I say that frequently.

Giuseppe Cesari, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” 1605-1610, Oil on canvas, 48 x 61.3 cm, Berkeley Art Museum, Ucal, Berkeley, California, USA

Guiseppe Cesari was one of those guys with more than one name.  He was also called Il Giuseppino and Cavaliere d’Arpino because he was created Cavaliere di Cristo by Pope Clement VIII.   Not only was Pope Clement VIII his patron but so was Pope Sixtus V.    His most famous and surprising pupil was (insert trumpets here) Caravaggio, who spent a year painting flowers and fruit in Cesari’s studio.

I like this composition for several reasons.

  • It is tight and compact – the three figures are close and overlapping without frivolous details.
  • Yet each character has a distinct role – Judith looks to the left for possible discovery, the maid looks heavenward for possible assistance and Holofernes looks dead.
  • Judith’s attire is simple and believable – rather than a fashion statement about the time in which it was painted, Cesari shows a woman dressed in attractively simple robes and jewels that are almost timeless.  or maybe i am just feeling patriotic about the red-white-and-blue theme.
  • The placement of elements is asymmetrical but harmonious – using three faces at three levels and three distances, with Judith’s head-shoulder-arm-hand forming continuity in a reversed “S.”
  • The use of light is pleasing and not overly dramatic – drawing attention to Judith’s face and arm.
  • The centering of Judith’s pearl earring gives the viewer a point of return and conveys the purity and simplicity of her faith and her goal.
But I do think if I heard a noise and was concerned about being caught in the act, I would probably put down the head.
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Glory


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