Judith on the dotted line

12 Apr

Such a lot of material to borrow today.   First I begin with a piece from a photographic essay for the re-opening of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, in which the subjects selected an artistic representation of the experience of visiting the museum.

Theo Chalmers, “Bill Heine with the sculpture of Judith and Holofernes,” 2009, photograph in series “My Ashmolean”,

My Ashmolean, My Museum is a photographic campaign produced in collaboration with high profile individuals and members of the local community. Each portrait tells a unique story about the Ashmolean’s renowned collections of art and archaeology and the sitter’s relationship with the object.

Give me strength this day.

Bill Heine, host of BBC Oxford’s talk show and owner of the Headington Shark House, has a personal affinity with the Judith and Holofernes story. In his portrait, he stands on front of the Ashmolean’s 17th century marble attributed to Francois Dieussart, which shows Judith’s triumph over the Babylonian general who had laid siege to her home town of Bethulia in Israel.

Bill’s fascinating and varied experiences in his home town of Oxford echo this ageless theme in art history; a fierce defense of one’s home and a willingness to battle for one’s beliefs. Never one for the straight-forward story, Bill challenges you to decide: is he Judith or Holofernes?

Second, I have material that relates to the sculpture itself  –  the lack of certain identity and the poor treatment over time.

Francois Dieussart, “Judith and Holofernes”, mid 17th century, marble sculpture, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England, UK

The unhappy history of neglect, sale and dispersal suffered by the ‘Arundel Marbles’, means that Dieussart’s contributions to their restoration–many of which were removed in the era of archaeological correctness–are nigh impossible to assess. What has become of the items by him enumerated in the two shipments from Rome is also unclear. There is, however, in the Ashmolean Museum one statue that … may be by him (18). This depicts Judith with the truncated head of Holofernes and has been severely weathered and battered over the years. The very visible drill-marks in the curls of hair–both of heroine and victim–the fringes on her gown and the treatment of the jewel at her bosom all find parallels in other, definite works. The statue serves to give an idea of what the ‘modern’ marbles in the two shipments may have looked like. As this very obvious subject is not listed in either inventory, it may have been carved during the sculptor’s five-year sojourn in London. (1)

What does it all mean?   That neither time or travel or weather or uncertain origins can dim the power of Judith’s story.   And even with one arm, she still has a grip on the situation.

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(1)  Avery, Charles. The collector Earl and his modern marbles: Thomas Howard and Francois Dieussart. Apollo Magazine, Jun 1, 2006.
(2)  Avery, Charles in the catalogue for the sale of The Arundel Marbles and Other Sculpture from Farley Court and Hall Barn, Christie’s, London, 10 December 1985, p. 16, discussing fragmentary torsos from the Arundel Collection which are neither Roman nor Greek antiquities; Penny. op. cit. in n. 7 above, pp. 35-36, no. 473.

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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Story


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