Judith and the bag of meat

30 Sep

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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