I have always loved Caravaggio of course, and especially his portrait of Judith and Holofernes, but to choose sides in a long raging battle steeped in women’s rights and the aggravating concept of how many really amazing paintings we denied ourselves due to our bizarre cultural prejudices, it is Artemesia Gentileschi’s that takes the prize by a long shot.
Hers depicts the grotesque power of this legendary biblical cautionary tale, both in Judith, and her victim but more so in the poignant depiction of her servant ready and eager to dispatch this particular duty. There’s a conspiratorial intimacy happening between these two women that has always been a forceful example of the narrative quality of single image art. Gentileschi’s a tremendous painter and great influence on what I do today, so to kick off this year’s Women’s History Month, let us pay no small homage to her, her talents and her bravado for standing up and expressing herself in a time where such an act would be unheard of. (1)
I always like to read explanations straight from the artist – and I appreciate the dedication to Women’s History Month. But I am still a little confused by the imagery in this homage to Judith and her maid. In particular, I would like to know:
- Why is Judith dressed in a bonnet and cape that places her in Victorian times?
- Why does Holofernes resemble Gandolf the Wizard?
- Why do I feel like the maid is a sinister pirate rather than a devoted servant?
All of which puts me in the middle of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island instead of Bethulia.
But I do love her smirk.