Monthly Archives: February 2012

Judith dresses in Bakst, avant

Judith was keeping good company when she wore the designs of Leon Bakst.   Bakst had been the set and costume designer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes until 1822, responsible for gems like Cleopatra (1909), Scheherazade (1910), Carnaval (1910), Narcisse (1911), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), and Daphnis et Chloe (1912).   He left Russia for France and teamed with Henri Bernstein in the designs for the 1922 production of Judith.

Woman (1922) by Bakst for the play “Judith”

Jewish Elder (1922) by Bakst for the play “Judith”

General Hasphenor (1922) by Bakst for the play “Judith”

Judith – The Queen’s Guard (1922) by Bakst for the play “Judith”

The play was apparently a success, although it is difficult to find information.  The one article I could find appeared in Science Magazine (yes, a little odd), indicating the proceeds of a performance were donated to French Confederation of Scientific Societies.

Poster for “Judith” (1922) by Henry Bernstein at Théâtre du Gymnase

Science Magazine, Dec 8, 1922.

This article does give one new piece of information:  who played the title role.  “Mme Simone” was Simone le Bargy, an actress who had worked with Bernstein on numerous productions. she was famous enough to be billed as simply “Simone”.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1922) Leon Bakst

But somehow I have trouble imagining her in this costume. Reminds me of something more likely to be worn by another one-name wonder, “Cher.”

Mme Simone le Bargy (1911)

Cher, Take Me Home (1979)

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Story


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Judith contemplates her conquest

I think I already abused the titles “Judith gets a little head” and “Judith gets a Big Head,” so what’s left?

The dramatic, exquisite and sweetly ironic art of Alexander Daniloff.

Alexander Daniloff is an artist, illustrator and designer – depicting life from a theatrical and whimsical point of view.    His subjects are often mythological – sometimes comical and child-like, sometimes somber and delving into our darker archetypes.   Of course, Judith is hardly a subject for children’s literature but Danilov does explore the fantastical side of her story.    His evolution on the subject is observed across these three paintings – from an expressionless and flat female clutching a severed head – to a sensitive and contemplative woman revering the sacrifice of an adversary who was larger than life.

Alexander Daniloff , “Judith,” 1999, 60 x 40 cm,

Alexander Daniloff , “Judith with the head of Holofernes,” 2003, Mixed media on canvas, 90 x 60 cm,

Alexander Daniloff, “Judith,” 2008, Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm,

For the variety of his work, visit Alexander Daniloff.   He is the one dressed as a centaur.

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Story


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Judith is sensual … morbidly

Simone Pignoni was best known for painting “in a style reminiscent of the morbidly sensual Furini” (1).    Makes me wonder about morbid sensuality, since that hints at S&M in my simple mind.    His self-portrait (c. 1650) is often cited as evidence of his “licentiousness”  – in which he depicts himself building up a plump naked female from a skeleton.   I don’t really see the problem here, from a contemporary perspective.   No different from the Halloween decorations in my neighbor’s front yard.

Whatever his predilections, he did an admirable job portraying Judith.   And then others did an admirable job of copying Pigeon.   The sincerest form of flattery.

Simone Pignoni, “Judith,” 1675, oil on canvas , 38 x 28 in, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

(after) Simone Pignoni, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” oil on canvas, 116.8 x 80.7 cm, auctioned by Sotheby’s 1/25/2001

Thomas Le Clair, “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1860, oil on canvas, 285 x 220 cm. auctioned by Sotheby’s 12/07/2004 (Lot 537); collection of Sue & Robert Joki

(1)  Based on comments by Fillipo Baldiuncci in Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua (Notices of professors of design from Cimabue to now) (1681) – keeping in mind he was intensely pious, considered becoming a Jesuit, and his understanding of art stemmed largely from his religion.

Update: “Judith” has moved from the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, OK to the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Whorey


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Judith as a blithe spirit

Leon Francois Comerre, “Judith,” c. 1900, Oil on canvas, 95.3 x 50.8 cm, private collection

Comerre paintings were all about lighthearted sensuality. His breathtaking pictures, painted in a lucid and glowing style, had an extraordinary way of revealing an air of frivolity coupled with deliberate eroticism.  He had an affinity with nature, especially its dramatic and ethereal aspects. Primeval intensity, blithe elegance, and  an ethereal atmosphere characterize his opulent painting style. (!)

And that explains the broad smile on her face and skip in her step on the way to decapitate the General.  My mistake:  I had misinterpreted this to mean she was just a murderous floozie.

(1) The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters: Leon Francois Comerre

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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Whorey


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Judith sets the stage

Isamu Noguchi, “Tent of Holofernes,” 1950, bronze, 108 x 109 x 54 in, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, US

Combine Martha Graham, founder of modern dance, with artist Isamu Noguchi – and you get stage sets.  Over the course of three decades, Noguchi designed about 20 sets for Graham, including the most famous Appalachian Spring (1944) and those for her series based on Greek myths as well as works revolving around biblical and religious themes, including Judith (1950).

Isamu Noguchi, “Tent of Holofernes,” 1950, bronze, 108 x 109 x 54 in, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, US

This form was created as a stage set for Judith, one of three bronze casts made from the balsawood original that appeared on stage.    Noguchi’s sculpture of four rigid bronze forms create a skeletal tent with two interlocking diagonal beams the serve as the tent’s opening and a single horizontal beam as the tent’s top edge.   This support was covered with a scarf during the performance of the dance.

Isamu Noguchi, “Tent of Holofernes,” 1950, bronze, 108 x 109 x 54 in, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, US

Symbolically, Noguchi used the ends of the forms to suggest the story.   The pointed tops suggest of spears of the Assyrian army – as well as Holofernes’ phallic desire for Judith.   The snake-like form of the diagonal – with a gaping mouth, sharp fangs, and bulging eyes – suggests danger lies within the tent. (1)

Apparently, Holofernes missed that cue.

(1) Getty Museum:  Tent of Holofernes

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Story


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Judith runs away with the circus

Arcangelo Salimbeni, “Judith and Holofernes,” 16th century, fresco. Chigi Saracini, Siena, IT

The photograph of the fresco is very small, so I am speculating here but … looks like Judith has run away with the circus.   And lucky girl, this circus has two carrousels!

I wonder how much she can charge to view the Headless Man?

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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Cacciatore


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Now for something completely different (XXX)

A Date With Judy (1952 no 30)

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In 2012 – sixty years later – Judy Gold talks about contemporary domestic life.

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in something completely different


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Judith goes exploring (xii)

How did I get here?

Day 81:   While a train could take me across France and over the Pyrennes to Madrid, in the interest of time I would prefer to fly 4 hours.  What the heck.  I can spend extra time in Madrid with a book about Judith.  In a park.

 Day 82:   A quick trip to Spain would allow me to spend 6 hours in the Museo del Prado.   Which is one hour per Judith.   Rembrandt, de Bray, de Goya, and three Tintoretto’s!    I will probably have time for the 3 hour tour.   Then rest my feet at the Husa Paseo del Arte down the street across and across from the Atocha station.

Mon – closed;  Tues-Sun8 am – 9 pm

Day 83:   It is a 10-12 hour train trip from Madrid back to France. and I can use it to enjoy the scenery and relax.

Day 84:  Pau – pronounced “po” – stands on a 200 meter elevation overlooking the valley of the Gave de Pau, a mountain river ford that gives passage to the Pyrenees.    Oddly, Mary Todd Lincoln stayed in Pau following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  My destination is Vernet‘s portrayal of Judith in the Musée des Beaux-Arts.    Pau also offers the opportunity to browse the breath-taking Château de Pau – birthplace of Henry IV, the first Bourbon king of France.   I think I may treat myself like a queen and splurge on the Villa Navarre.

Mon – closed;  Tues-Sun:  10 am – 12 pm and 2 pm – 6 pm

Day 85:  One and a half hours by car from Pau is Bagnères-de-Luchon (aka Luchon), a spa town celebrated for its 48 thermal springs of sodium sulfate and ranging in temperature from 62 to 150 F.   ouch.   It is also often on the Tour de France route.   But I am passing through to view the stained glass Judith in Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption (Church of Our Lady of the Assumption).   open daily.

Afterwards probably relax and watch people on the Allées d’Étigny – an avenue planted with lime-trees at the southern end of the Thermes (hot baths) before taking the 2.5 hour train to Toulouse‘s Matabiau station.   The second stop on the Metro the line (Capitole) will allow me to make my next home at the 1930’s inspired Le Grand Balcon to prepare for a big day.

Day 86:   The second stop on the A line (Esquirol) leaves me two blocks from the Musée des Augustins.    It is worth the trip to see three more Judith’s:   Curradi,  de Boulogne and a bronze by Segoffin.    The museum itself is a historical Augustinian convent built in the southern Gothic style and is particularly strong in 12th century Romanesque sculpture from Toulouse’s main religious buildings.   Dagnabbit, I guess I will have to start collecting Judith statues now.

every day 10:00 am – 6:00 pm;  Wed 10:00 am – 9:00 pm

Day 87:   A day trip from Toulouse to Montauban takes about 30 minutes to the Musee Ingres.   The museum is on the site of a castle of the Counts of Toulouse and residence of the bishops of Montauban, and stands at the east end of the remarkable 14th century bridge, Pont Vieux.   The museum is primarily 17th century, but some portions are much older – such as an underground Salle du Prince Noir (Hall of the Black Prince, like that doesn’t sound ominous).  It is the largest museum of native son Jean Ingres paintings in the world.   Except he never painted Judith, so I am here to see Gironde and von Aachen.

Mon – closed;    Tues-Sun:  (Sept-Jun)  10am to 12pm and 2pm to 6pm;   (July-Aug)  10am to 6pm

Day 88:   Another day trip is in order to Castres since I have to come back to Toulouse for the next train anyway.   It is a little over an hour and a 15 minute straight walk to the Musee de Goya.    Javier Bueno’s unseen Judith and Flaugier’s ripe Judith are there – although this museum houses the largest collection of Spanish paintings in France, Flaugier is French so ???   Just relax and enjoy the charm of Castres along the Agout river, before returning to Toulouse.

(Sept-June) 9am to 12pm & 2pm to 5pm;  Mon – closed;  (July-Aug) daily 10am to 8pm

Day 89:  “Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de Glorie sont arrive!”   I can still remember those words from my high school French class.   Mde Schroeder would be so proud.   And with that song in my heart, I press on to Marseille.   From the Matabiau station, 4 hours by train, leaving about every 2 hours to Marseille St Charles.   The goal:  Regnault‘s Judith residing in the Musee des Beaux-Arts Marseille.   But ACK!  it is under renovation??  And where did Regnault go in the meantime?  Sacre bleu and manger de la merde.

Day 90:   From Marseille to Menton is 3.5 hours with a change in Nice.   How much fun can one have on the Cote d’Azur?   i will attempt to find out from a home base in the Hotel Lemon –  steps from the train station.

The new jewel of the area is the Jean Cocteau Wunderkind Museum.   The building itself is a work of art by Rudy Riccotti and the contents is a labor of love collected by Severin Underman.  Among the a showcase for the 2,790 works, Cocteau executed a painting of Judith as a preliminary to a tapestry (which I will track down tomorrow).   In the meantime, I can revel in the poetry, drama, design, art and film that was al the talent of Cocteau.

Tues- closed;   Wed-Mon:   10am to 12pm and 2pm to 6pm

Day 91:  It is tomorrow.  And I am renting a car to drive the half hour to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Villa Santo-Sospir – where the Cocteau tapestry of Judith resides.  It should be a glorious drive since it takes me through Monaco.   And the villa – oh my gawd the Villa Santo-Sospir is to die for.

Daily, by appointment only

The perfect way to end my tour of France.  And begin the overwhelming excursion of tracking Judith through Italy.

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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Exploring


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Judith ventures Far South and Far East

Ravi Varma, “Judith,” 1873, oil on canvas, Sri Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

This is truly unique.  The only Judith painted by an artist from India.  From anywhere other than Europe. By the celebrated Indian artist, Ravi Varma – Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor.

And it is a lovely example of Orientalism, with an Eastern view of a Western heroine.

Nice wallpaper, too.

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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Whorey


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Judith gets the spoils

I thought it was the Kardasians.

Arthur Szyk, “Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes,” 1921, watercolor, ink and gouache on paper. 13 x 10 cm, auctioned by Gene Shapiro Auctions 10/20/2007 (Lot 239)

Actually, this artwork is unworthy of that comment.  It is far better than the 50-minutes of fame grabbed by the Kardashians.

This is the work of Arthur Szyk: graphic artist, book illustrator, stage designer and caricaturist.  His initial notoriety was based on caricatures of Axis figures during World War II.   However, this piece pre-dates the politically-oriented caricatures and, instead, represents his rejection of Modern art.    In revolt against the revolt against conservative values, Szyk’s Judith reflects Medieval and Renaissance style, especially illuminated manuscripts.   Without knowing exact source, it was obviously produced during his flight to Paris where he illustrated numerous books with rich colors and detailed execution including:  the Le livre d’Esther (1925), followed by Gustave Flaubert’s dialogue La tentation de Saint Antoine, (1926), Pierre Benoît’s novel Le puits e Jacob (1927).

Perhaps most timely, Szyk also illustrated the anti-Nazi book “The New Order” (1941, J.P. Putnam’s Sons), filled with plausibly monstrous caricatures of Axis leaders – Hilter, Mussolini, Hirohito, et al.

In truth, I did originally think this was a contemporary work of art — and dismissed it unfairly as “hippie doodle.”  I’m not even sure what I mean by “hippie doodle”, except I perceived a cannabis-induced riff on Indian bedspreads.  My bad for inserting my own Pier-One-inspired analysis and subsequent dismissal of a work that — for it’s time — is quite remarkable.


Upon my second look at this work, I found an informative profile of Szyk in PRINT:

A victim of anti-Semitism in his native country, forced to move to Paris, England, and later the U.S., he still fervently fought for a free Polish state as both soldier and artist, and later devoted his energies to freeing Palestine from British rule and building a Jewish state. Indeed almost all his art, even the numerous books of fairy tales and fables he illustrated, were somehow imbued with appeals for universal social justice. “To call Szyk a ‘cartoonist’ is tantamount to calling Rembrandt a dauber or Chippendale a carpenter,” declared an editorial in a 1942 Esquire, one of the many accolades he received during his lifetime.(1)

As Heller notes (and I surmised), by the 70s and 80s Szyk’s style was unfashionable by the standards of “neo-expressionistic raw-edged mannerisms” in illustration. But through a fluck, rabbi and rare book bookseller Irvin Ungar made it his mission to revive interest in Szyk’s work and took major responsibility for the non-profit Arthur Szyk Society, which enables him to curate international museum exhibitions of Szyk’s art.  His interest lies in the spiritual richness and innate humanity of the work depicting historic Judaica.

So much of his art has a message: fighting against oppression, tyranny, and for freedom and justice. In essence, he translated his Jewish values into democratic ideals, being an advocate for mankind at large. [And] what Szyk says to me is this: care about your own people and use the best of that value system to contribute and make the world a better place for all people.

Although Heller considers Szyk’s interpretation of the Haggadah to be his greatest legacy, my interest is directed to his Heroes of Ancient Israel: The Playing Cards of Arthur originally done in the 1930s.  “Painted in his highest style in watercolor and gouache on paper, the twelve cards – four Kings, four Queens, and four Jacks – each feature a different Jewish hero from the Bible or ancient history”  — because OF COURSE, the Queen of Hearts is .. Ruth?

Oh dear.  There seems to be a mass of internet confusion about which queen is which.  Although attributed to Judith on various sites –

  • Ruth the Moabitess is the Queen of Hearts holding sprig of wheat
  • Deborah the Judge is Queen of Diamonds holding the scales of justice
  • Queen Esther is Queen of Spades holding a sceptre
  • Judith is Queen of Clubs holding a Big Ass Sword

Yes, Judith on the cover illustration of the card deck — because that’s how fierce she is.


(1)  Steven Heller, Arthur Szyk, PRINT, February 10, 2012

See also:

The Arthur Szyk Society

Joesph P. Ansell, Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004)


Book of Judith, Chapter 15

8 Then Joacim the high priest, and the ancients of the children of Israel that dwelt in Jerusalem, came to behold the good things that God had shewed to Israel, and to see Judith, and to salute her.
9 And when they came unto her, they blessed her with one accord, and said unto her, Thou art the exaltation of Jerusalem, thou art the great glory of Israel, thou art the great rejoicing of our nation:
10 Thou hast done all these things by thine hand: thou hast done much good to Israel, and God is pleased therewith: blessed be thou of the Almighty Lord for evermore. And all the people said, So be it.
11 And the people spoiled the camp the space of thirty days: and they gave unto Judith Holofernes his tent, and all his plate, and beds, and vessels, and all his stuff: and she took it and laid it on her mule; and made ready her carts, and laid them thereon.
12 Then all the women of Israel ran together to see her, and blessed her, and made a dance among them for her: and she took branches in her hand, and gave also to the women that were with her.
13 And they put a garland of olive upon her and her maid that was with her, and she went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women: and all the men of Israel followed in their armour with garlands, and with songs in their mouths.

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Glory


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