Judith: (to the Maid) Take it! TAKE IT!!
Maid: Alright already! the bag is right here in front of you. Why are you so touchy?
Judith: *sigh* It’s the white dress. I don’t know why I didn’t think that white would show stains.
Maid: Well, what did you wear last time you decapitated a General?
Judith: That’s just it. I’ve never done this before. In fact, I don’t even handle the bloody meat in my own kitchen. How did you decide what to wear?
Maid: You mean the black and red that disguise blood splatter? My last Mistress.
Judith: You mean she took you to a decapitation?
Maid: (hesitating) Uh … not exactly…
Monthly Archives: July 2012
Charles Beaubrun was a French portrait painter active in Paris between 1630-70 in the courts of King Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France. One of the popular portraits of the day was depicting the subject as a mythological character. Beaubrun painted this unknown actress as Judith – although there is not one thing that would give the viewer a clue to that. No head, no sword, no maid. In fact, I am about 90% certain that is should be titled “Portrait of an actress in the role of Diana” given the bow and the hound.
Which leads me to believe there is a portrait of a woman holding a Big Ass Sword and a Severed Head laying around in a storage room with no title attached.
I have an imagination. some acquaintances even say it is vivid. And I appreciate a good fantasy. but I come no where near the fantastical imagination of Ludmilla.
“O Mundo Fanastisco” re-clothes figures from history and mythology in monochromatic grays and buffs to create a world that is cold but vigorous, subdued but alive (1)(2). Riveting because it is unclear if the characters are receding into metal and stone – or if they are emerging. To really appreciate the full effect of this Judith requires placing her amidst the other inhabitants of this pseudo-Venetian Carnival world: Europa, Cupido, Flora, Falcoaria.
With a view into this exotic stage-set, the viewer is exposed to Judith as warrior in fantastical chain mail. Holofernes’ head woven into the fabric. an ankh dangling from her headdress – the symbol of “eternal life.” So once again she stands astride two planes: bringing death to sustain life.
There is more to this woman than meets the eye.
(1) Ludmila’s work can be seen in Claus Brusen, Imaginaire: Magic Realism, Volume 3. Sæby, Denmark: Fantasmus-Artbooks, 2011.
(2) Her blog is Ludmila Fantastic Art
Although difficult to see from a computer image, this is one of the leading pieces of 17th century British embroidery from the Burrell Collection. The raised work panel is high quality design and needlework that depicts Judith dressed in an antique costume holding a Really Large head of Holofernes, surrounded by a wide border with the scene of numerous woodland creatures. In the background is a detailed village, including the tent with Holofernes’ body.
Having been an accomplished needleworker myself, viewing this panel brings to mind a cozy evening scene around the fire in the mid 17th century like this:
Henrietta Marietta: Have you seen the maroon embroidery silk?
Wilhemina Josephine: I was using it on the wolf but I put it back in the embroidery chest. Why do you need it?
Henrietta Marietta: I am working on the decapitation and I can’t decide what color to use.
Wilhemina Josephine: Yes, decapitation is difficult to embroider. Crimson makes the blood look fresh, but perhaps too vivid. Maroon is more likely to suggest the blood has dried.
Henrietta Marietta: Thank you for that suggestion. You are always so clever about the nasty bits.
I know this girl has an agenda, but look at her “laying it on thick” in this dining scene. Holding Holofernes’ hand, peering up into his face, leaning in close. The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance with everyone closing in on him. And he looks a little perturbed by the fawning. Maybe he is tired of this trio pawing him, or maybe he is tired in general from the tedious banquet.
Not to worry: Judith has plans to take him to bed … and then relieve some of the weight on his mind.
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Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) was an early American advocate for equality of the sexes —that women, like men, had the capability of intellectual accomplishment and should be able to achieve economic independence. her landmark essay “On the Equality of the Sexes,” published in the Massachusetts Magazine in March and April 1790 predated Mary Wollstonecraft’s publication of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in 1792. She first noticed the gender inequalities of her day when her younger brother Winthrop began studying the classics, a subject that her parents refused to provide for their daughter. Primarily self-taught, Murray believed that with quality education, women’s accomplishments would equal those of men. She used examples of women’s accomplishments dating to ancient times to prove her points and to provide leadership in what would become a long struggle for women to fulfill their potential and become fully empowered members of society.
Like 130 years of struggle.
Murray made copies of her correspondence to create a historical record for future generations – which were found in 1984 and were published on microfilm by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History where the original volumes reside (having moved to Natchez with her daughter). Containing approximately 2,500 letters, Murray’s letter books make up one of the few surviving collections of writings by women from this period in American history.
Today I give tribute to (perhaps) the youngest artist to skillfully portray Judith, Matteo Ciompallini. But to focus on his age is to distract from his talent. This is actually one of two portraits of Judith: the other is even more exquisite and I am savoring it until later.
The part of this sketch that I admire is not Judith, but the maid – sunken in the shadows of the background. Her expression is difficult to discern. Is she wary of danger to Judith? Or is she wondering why they are still hanging around the tent? Maybe both? Either way, she stays solidly in the background – ready to serve and support and keep her opinion to herself.
Judith: [in a loud voice over the noise of the crowd] AND HERE I HOLD THE FAUCHION THAT HUNG ABOVE HOLOFERNES’ BED …
Judith: … THAT I USED TO STRIKE HIS NECK …
Judith: [Whispering aside] What?!
Maid: I can’t find the head.
Judith: [Whispering aside] WHAT?!! I need that head for the next part of my speech. How can you lose a head?
Maid: The same way you lose anything else.
Judith: [in a loud voice over the noise of the crowd] … WHILE HE LAY IN A STUPOR … [Whispering aside] When did you last have it?
Maid: When we walked through the gates, when everyone ran out to cheer you.
Judith: [in a loud voice over the noise of the crowd] … SNORING … [Whispering aside] And then what?
Maid: I don’t know. In the excitement, it got misplaced.
Judith: [in a loud voice over the noise of the crowd] … LIKE AN ELEPHANT AND … [Whispering aside] What should I do?
Maid: Just sit down while I think of something.
Judith: [suddenly in a loud voice] … I JUST SAT ON HIS FACE!!
CROWD: WHAT?!! YOU SAT ON HIS FACE??
Judith: [in a loud voice] NO, I MEAN I JUST “SPAT” IN HIS FACE … BEFORE I CUT OFF HIS HEAD … LIKE THIS! [showing the head]
Maid: Oh, there is it! Right under your bum! But I didn’t think you were going to talk about that part when you …
Judith: [Whispering aside] Careful. The next head you lose may be your own.
As long as we are dealing with the macabre …
… why not drop in the image of Judith as Wednesday Addams.
… being playful with an extra severed head lying around the mansion.
Or in truly playful style, here is a version of Judith as Wednesday that allows you to insert the head of any victim of your choice.
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
from “The Mourning Bride” (1697) by William Congreve
I would say this is what fury looks like. The triumphant woman with her foot on the severed head, her arm raised dramatically as she sheaths the murder weapon. And turns her back on the mutilated body twisted in the deep shadow.
I would cower in the corner, too, if I were the maid.