I have now arrived at the consummate Cranach. The pinnacles of his paintings. The jewels of his Judith’s. The two renderings I reverently reference as “Red” and Green.”
If I thought there was a Xerox machine or even carbon paper in Renaissance Saxony, I would swear these were copies of the same painting. and there is only one major difference that helps me keep them separated: Red has red sleeves and Green has green sleeves. I know, I know, that may seem too academic and esoteric for many, but if you study them very closely and focus on the subtle variation between the color red and the color green, in time the difference will become apparent.
Compared to the other Cranach’s I have discussed, I do not know why he went so wild and crazy with these two. First, he let down their hair. No longer confined to a snood or caul, Judith’s golden locks flow freely in gentle, limp waves. (I bet that was radical for the Reformists, those lusty Lutherans.) LC the E also went a little heavy on the bling – bringing to mind Flavor Flav without the clock – and amped up the brocades in the gowns. The kid gloves are still in place and the bon vivant red barrett is still balanced on the right side of her head. (Although Red has a few feathers in her cap that Green is missing.)
Perhaps these paintings make the top 10 Judith’s for the simple fact that they so elegantly and without emotion portray the essence of the story that has endured beyond the politics and social concerns of the time: the incredulousness that a well-dressed damsel could decapitate anyone – especially a military leader – and then sit calmly with his head as her portrait is made. They provide two differing frames of reference (superficial, cool elegance v. horrific, maniacal mutilation) that collide in such a way to elicit humor (1). Translation: they rivet our attention because the elements seem ridiculous in the 21st century. They ARE ridiculous.
Yes, Red and Green remind me of one of my favorite movie heroines: Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996). And if you don’t love the Coen Brothers … well, I can’t explain. But maybe a moment of Marge will bring some warmth on a cold day. Two minutes is all you need.
(1) Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation. New York: Penguin Books, 1964:.