Judith in bloom

19 Mar

Giovanna Garzoni, “Portrait of the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere as Judith with the head of Holofernes,” mid 17th century, tempera on vellum, 28.5 x 40.3 cm, auctioned by Christie’s 7/4/2006 (Lot 32)

Well … this is awkward.   A decapitated head in a seashell surrounded by flowers.  Can you hear the patron and the artist discussing this commission?

Garzoni:   Grand Duchess Vittoria, thank you so much for entrusting me with your portrait.  Have you considered the setting you would like?

Grand Duchess:   Actually, yes.  I want to be Botticelli’s Venus, emerging from the sea.

Garzoni:   Good choice.  We can set you on the banks of the Arno River in a seashell and use the hills of Tuscany as a backdrop.

Grand Duchess:   Um, no.  The hills of Tuscany have been done to boredom as a backdrop.  And I prefer flowers.

Garzoni:   A field of flowers?

Grand Duchess:   Umm, no.   More like a wreath.

Garzoni:   A wreath of flowers on your head?

Grand Duchess:   Ummm, no.   A wreath of flowers around my portrait.  Like that Rubens guy painted around the Madonna.

Garzoni:   Okay, so skip the seashell emerging from the Arno and surround your portrait with flowers.

Grand Duchess:   Ummmm, no.   I want the seashell AND the flowers.  You can skip the Arno.

Garzoni:   Okaay, so a big seashell and little flowers.

Grand Duchess:   Ummmmm, no.   A big seashell and BIG flowers.

Garzoni:   Okaaay, so a big seashell and BIG flowers surrounding you as Venus.

Grand Duchess:   Ummmmmm, no.   On second thought, I want to be someone else.  Someone powerful.  And scary.

Garzoni:   Okaaaay, someone scary in a seashell surrounded by BIG flowers.  May I ask, who are you hoping to scare?  Your mother-in-law?

Grand Duchess:   Ummmmmmm, no.   My husband, that bastard.  You know, he didn’t consummate our marriage for six years.  Then I caught him in bed with Count de Molera and didn’t speak to him for 20 years.  After we DID speak, he knocked me up.  So much for pleasant conversation.  I would like to cut off his head.

Garzoni:   Okaaaaay, someone scary in a seashell surrounded by BIG flowers holding a head.  You have two choices:  Judith or Salome.

Grand Duchess:   Ummmmmmmm, Judith.  Salome is too slutty and pretentious.  I hate it when people portray themselves in a conspicuous way, don’t you?

Garzoni:   Okaaaaaay …

Just to fill in between the lines, you may want to read more about Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere – mother of Cosimo III de’ Medici who reigned from 1670 to 1723 as Grand Duke of Tuscany.

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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Glory


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