Back to the Centerfold version of Judith. And it always amazes me when the artist from a northern climate choses a nude portrayal. I mean, do they not consider how cold she would be?
This is the artwork of Jans Sanders van Hemessen. His paintings were often on popular proverbs and religious parables in a realistic style but he also possessed a keen sense of humor, creating satires on everyday life and human failings such as greed and vanity. But I am assuming this depiction of Judith is not a satire. Unless …
Naw. This is classic Mannerism, rising out of the Renaissance. Shelley Esaak gives an entertaining description of what that means:
The only downside to the whole business (of the Renaissance) was, with the Big Three Names diminished to one (Michelangelo) after 1520, where was Art to go? It almost seems as if Art asked itself this very question, at the time, and that the prevailing answer was: “Oh, what the hey. We could never top the High Renaissance, so why bother?” Hence, Mannerism popped up … a phrase coined in the 20th-century, is what happened artistically during the “Late” Renaissance (otherwise known as the years between Raphael’s death and the beginning of the Baroque phase in 1600) … Where High Renaissance art was natural, graceful, balanced and harmonious, the art of Mannerism was quite different. While technically masterful, Mannerist compositions were full of clashing colors, disquieting figures with abnormally elongated limbs, (often torturous-looking) emotion and bizarre themes that combined Classicism, Christianity and mythology. The nude, which had been rediscovered during the Early Renaissance, was still present during the Late but, heavens – the poses in which it found itself! Leaving compositional instability out of the picture (pun intended), no human could have maintained positions such as those depicted – clothed or otherwise. (1)
And that is a pretty good description of this painting. Contorted by twisting the torso over her right hip. Holding the sword over her head with her right hand palm down – unnecessarily since the severed head is already laying to the side. Judith actually seems to be asking three questions: Does my butt look big? Do my breasts look perky, and Do I need to shave my armpits?
Deja vu. I think I remember having that conversation in the girls’ locker room in high school.
(1) Shelley Esaak, “The Italian Late Renaissance and Mannerism – Art History 101 Basics,” About.com Art History