Judith gives a long chase

30 Jan

I have been chasing this painting all over the place and I am still not satisfied …

Theodore Chassériau, “Judith” aka “Desdemona Retiring to her Bed”, 1849, oil on canvas, 42.1 x 32.5 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, FR

Among the many things I learned:

  • Do NOT download an image without documenting where you found it.  That little trick would have saved me hours in backtracking.
  • Even when you backtrack to the original image, you may find there is no information. (Palm plant on forehead)
  • If the location to which you backtrack is Russian, be prepared for alternate spelling of the artist’s name.  Also be prepared for Cyrillic script, aka Russian alphabet characters.
  • Once you have a name and have located the artist, be aware that the ONE painting for which you are searching is the one NOT associated with his name.

However, based on the images I did find for this artist, it seems to be a safe assumption that this portrayal of Judith is part of his oeuvre.  And i might even go so far as to guess this Judith is hiding somewhere in Russia.

The artist i am speculating about is Theodore Chasseriau, a French romantic painter of the second quarter of the 19th century.   He was born in the Dominican Republic of a French adventurer father and the daughter of a Creole landowner.  Returning to Paris, he was first schooled by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and then Eugène Delacroix – such that his work has been described as a reconciliation the Classicism of Ingres with the Romanticism of Delacroix.   His  body of work focuses on historical and religious paintings, allegorical murals, and Orientalist images inspired by his travels to Algeria.   Sadly, he died at age 37 from poor health.

Why spend so much time chasing down a painting I am not even sure can be identified?  Because I like it.

I love the contemplative moment – assuming that Judith’s maid is preparing her to meet Holofernes.  Judith has an intense expression of detachment and apprehension – suggesting her mind is somewhere else.  The Maid is all business, and perhaps whispering encouragement in Judith’s ear.  As long as they stand here, Judith can delay.  As long as they fuss over fastening and drape and jewelry and hair, Judith can put off her meeting and put off her task.

I like this image because rather than Judith in triumph and glory for an impossible accomplishment, the artist has shown Judith in doubt.  And that feels very real.

EDIT:  Through some additional sleuthing on the artist, I have now identified the painting as NOT Judith but Desdemona.  The first two websites i encountered were dubious in their identification, but on the third attempt I landed on Joconde (the database for all the art in France) which led me to The Louvre (where the painting resides) so I guess I will have to accept their attribution. Those two being authorities and all.

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Story


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