Monthly Archives: March 2013

Judith looks for a sign

A sign that the practice painting is over.

But first: GOSSIP!  William Etty’s work that was sent for exhibition at the Royal Academy and British Institution generated the greatest praise and protest from his contemporaries.   “Memorials” (his own term) to painters such as Titian, Rubens, Poussin, Reynolds and Lawrence evoked both accolades for color and condemnation for the indecency of his nudes.  as recently as 2011, the York Art Gallery hosted “William Etty: Art and Controversy” – still raising eyebrows after all these years.

Back to my story. A few weeks ago on February 23 (Judith in triplicate), I talked about a triptych painted by William Etty.  Like many of the latter works of art I have displayed, it was difficult to uncover the background on that particular piece.  And today – voila! – a book appears by W. Cosmo Monkhouse entitled Pictures by William Etty: With Descriptions and a Biographical Sketch of the Painter (1874).  On pages 43 to 45, the author describes how Etty planned a heroic narrative to follow “The Combat – Woman Pleading for the Vanquished” and chose Judith as his theme.   In the center panel is Judith on the verge of decapitating an unconscious Holofernes, to the right is the maid among the slumbering soldiers, to the left is Judith leaving the tent with her bloody prize – the three Judith’s mentioned in descriptions of Etty’s long term endeavor and one his finest accomplishments.  So now I can stop looking.

But the new search also brought up another works by Etty that is a study in preparation for the triptych.  So where were they hiding out?

(c) York Museums Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Etty, Study for “Judith,” c.1822 – c.1833, Oil on millboard, 30.5 x 40.6 cm, York Museums Trust, York, England, UK

Apparently the basement of the York trust.

Judith ( ) Etty

William Etty, “Judith and Holofernes, triptych,” 1827-1831, oil on canvas, 21¼ x 29 in. (total size including frame), auctioned by Christie’s Sep 3, 2008 (Lot 181), London, England, UK


Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Cacciatore


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Now for something completely different (LXXVIX)


One year ago today,  JUDITH OF BETHULIA (a “Burlesque Based on Ancient Themes”) opened off-Broadway.  Billed as a Biblical comedy, this is the brain-child of Charles Busch – an American actor, screenwriter, playwright and female impersonator.  UNBELIEVABLE!!! Judith and a female impersonator on the same stage – two of my favorites!!!

poster for Judith of Bethulia

the cast includes –

MARY TESTA  – Arga –
JOHN WOJDA – Holofernes –

Kendal Sparks, Charles Busch, Jennifer Cody, Billy Wheelan, Jennifer Van Dyck

Kendal Sparks, Charles Busch, Jennifer Cody, Billy Wheelan, and Jennifer Van Dyck

Mary Testa, Charles Busch, Jennifer Cody

Mary Testa, Charles Busch, Jennifer Cody discuss strategy

Dave August, Charles Busch, Larry Bullock

Dave August, Charles Busch, Larry Bullock at Judith’s arrival

Charles Busch, Mary Testa

Charles Busch, Mary Testa preparing for Holofernes’ banquet

John Wojda, Charles Busch, Christopher Borg

John Wojda, Charles Busch, Christopher Borg at Holofernes banquet

Charles Busch, Mary Testa, John Wojda

Charles Busch, Mary Testa, John Wojda prepare for the deed


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Judith and Temptation

Tyler Perry’s Temptation – to be more specific.  And Judith gets to be the name of the young, successful, hot chick.


Seduction is the devil’s playground.

Judith is an Ivy League educated relationship expert who gives marital advice for a living, yet can’t seem to follow that advice in her own marriage to Bryce. Bored with her life, she breaks her professional code and begins an affair with a smooth talking client. After the initial excitement of their torrid relationship wears off, Judith realizes that she’s made a grave mistake. It will take every ounce of courage and forgiveness for Judith to escape the dangerous situation she finds herself in.

Looks like the image of Judith could finally get a make-over.


Judith falls in love

Judith means me. This Judith.

This Judith is in LOVE with the art of Kehinde Wiley. And head-over-heals for “An Economy of Grace.”

Kehinde Wiley, “Juliette Recamier,” 2012, Oil on linen, 72 x 96 in,

That is not to say I do not also love his fabulous depictions of “urban” men from around the world – but there are too many to discuss here and this blog is not about men anyway.  No, it is the placement of African American women from the streets of New York in poses from European classics that enthralls me.

The reason why I am painting women now is in order to come to terms with depictions of gender and the way it is featured art historically–a means to broaden the conversation… “An Economy of Grace” is an investigation of the presence of women in painting, but in a broader sense, it is a investigation of the negotiation of power in image-making. For this body of work I looked to 18th and 19th-century society portraits for inspiration. At that time it was common practice for nobility to commission unique clothing for portraiture. By working with a major fashion house on this project (Givenchy), we’re revamping that tradition for the 21st century. (1)

Kehinde, Wiley, “Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha,” 2012, Oil on linen, 96 x 72 in,
Kehinde Wiley, “The Two Sisters,” 2012, Oil on linen, 96 x 72 in,

The 12 works in the series continue his style of elaborate decorative backgrounds (which also satisfies my love for William Morris and wallpaper in all it’s ecstacy of gardens and jungles), but adds six gowns designed for the project by Riccardo Tisci, the creative director of Givenchy. (2)

The artist and designer roamed the Louvre discussing the concept of the project: “society’s ideals of feminine beauty and the frequent marginalization of women of color.”

The name of the exhibit further explores the issue. Wiley says, “The phrase ‘an economy of grace’ speaks directly to the ways in which we manufacture and value grace and honor, the people we choose to bestow that honor upon, and the ways in which grace is at once an ideal that we strive for and something that is considered to be a natural human right.”

And as the centerpiece is Judith – larger than life, bold, triumphant, glorious.  set amid a background of exotic, heavy flowered vines – shifting from orange to red and accented by cornflower blue – Judith appears intoxicated with the sensual explosion of the setting and the victory over Holofernes.  This is not Carravagio’s Judith – who wears an expression of doubt.  This is Allori’s Judith – but more.  More power, more satisfaction, more in-your-face.

Judith (2012) Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, “Judith and Holofernes,” 2012, Oil on linen, 120 x 90 in, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina, US

To add to the exhilaration, consider this:  Judith and Holofernes is 10 feet tall.  Which means I MUST plan a trip to Raleigh to be completely overwhelmed.

a Untitled

(1) /, Frequently asked questions (viewed Mar 16, 2013)

(2) Arts Observer, Kehinde Wiley Finally Painted a Portrait of a Lady, May 29, 2012

(3) The North Carolina Museum of Art, Flickr: Installation of new Kehinde Wiley acquisition, August 28, 2012

Mme Recamier (1800) Louis David
Jacques-Louis David, “Mme Juliette Recamier,” 1800, oil on canvas, 1.74 x 2.44 m, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1839) Sir Edwin Landseer
Sir Edwin Landseer, “Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha”, 1839, Oil sketch on canvas, 41.9 x 35.2 cm , The Royal Collection, UK
The Two Sisters (1843) Theodore Chasseriau
Theodore Chasseriau, “The Two Sisters,” 1843, oil on canvas, 180 x 135 cm, Louvre, Paris, France

Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Glory


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Judith and the Limner

I must be having a bad day. This painting has me … uh … without anything to say.

(c) Marysia Donaldson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

David Abercrombie Donaldson, “Judith,” 1955, Oil on canvas, 30 x 61 cm, Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK

I mean … um … it has pretty shades of blue and green.  And lovely pale flowers to balance the misty white tents of the receding Assyrian camp.  And Judith looks very healthy and happy and … er … vacant.

I am also quite confused because, looking across Donaldson’s ouevre, this painting is a departure from his other work.  I mean, this artist painted a portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II in 1968 – which led to him becoming The Painter and Limner for Her Majesty in Scotland, for crying out loud!!  His duties included “drawing pictures of our [the Monarch’s] person or of our successors or others of our royal family for the decorment of our houses and palaces”.  And he painted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s portrait in 1977, for heavens sake!!!  His style was very sophisticated, modern and refined.

But this depiction of Judith looks like something from a high school art show.  Although that is not how the critics describe it.

Judith, which was exhibited at the Edinburgh Festival in 1955, is a neat summation of the artist’s style… In his own rendition, Donaldson has glanced obliquely at the Renaissance and Baroque prototypes which clot the subject, only to return them to store and invest the theme with his own wry commentary. Gone is the jaunty self-possession of Botticelli’s homecoming Judith; gone is Artemisia Gentileschi’s gory pathology and multi-layered psychological complexity. The Scotsman’s Judith is a mildly anxious, ethereal creature, almost a refugee from a Victorian fairy painting. She floats away from the distant enemy encampment, lightly supporting the head of Holofernes on her shoulder. There is no attendant maidservant, only tangles of flowers. The saviour of her country has accomplished her task with the delicate efficiency of the sunrise which stains the horizon.(1)

Actually, Donaldson’s obituary gives some insight into this painting – and perhaps into a perspective on life.  “His allegorical paintings look back to his Scottish background with its deeply rooted knowledge of the Bible and the poems of Burns. Yet in all these works it is Donaldson’s sense of the joy of life and living that comes across most strongly” (2).

So maybe Judith is a respite from Queens and Prime Ministers, a journey to the lowlands of Scotland where he was “a wee bastard who was bairned up a close in Coatbridge.”  And a tribute to the freedom that comes from smiting your nemesis.

(c) Marysia Donaldson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

David Abercrombie Donaldson, “Margaret Hilda Roberts (b.1925), Mrs Denis Thatcher, Prime Minister,” 1986, Oil on canvas, 101 x 91.5 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

(1) written for The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery by Marion Lawson, History of Art Department, University of Glasgow 1984 

(2) Joanna Soden, Obituary of David Donaldson, The Independent, August 27,1996

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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Distracted


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Judith has Afternoon Tea

Judith appears to be so relaxed, just having a spot of tea for après-sex in the après-midi.

Judith (2008) James Guppy

James Guppy, “Judith Reminiscing,” 2008, acrylic on linen, 106.5 x 71 cm, private collection

This is one of Guppy’s “double images” – a narrative painting about interiors, featuring two participants.  Guppy considers his artistic task to remake or transform the viewer’s vision of the world. Oh boy, does he accept that task with gusto, creating surreal portraits that may be anthropomorphized objects or objectified beings – although it is often unclear.

In this painting, the first glance gives the viewer a close-up view of a middle-aged Judith in the nude.  Not the traditionally beautiful nude but one that is probably more realistic.   The second point of interest is the head under her left hand – which appears to be decomposing into a shade of grayish green.  And then the teapot comes into view, with a highly reflective exterior and a tiny couple approaching an intimate moment on the right side of the saucer.  Hard to say if this is a re-enactment of Judith and Holofernes before the decapitation – as if Judith’s reminiscing has come to life – or if it is an entirely different Lilliputian couple.  But it is clear that the men in these depictions have sickly skin tones – and possibly a tail.

What is in that teapot, anyway?

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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Whorey


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Judith and the oldest profession

Despite the contemporary analysis of Judith yesterday (and the unearthing of my true agenda), today we are back to the old Judith – the one who is confused with a whore.

The Procuress; (?) Judith with the Head of Holofernes ?circa 1828 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner , “The Procuress/Judith with the Head of Holofernes” c.1828, Oil on canvas, 124.1 x 91.4 cm, Tate Collection, London, England, UK

To make matters worse, I am not even sure about the artist because this is a TOTAL departure for Joseph Mallord William Turner.   Looking over his portfolio, there is a wealth of pre-impressionist landscapes and a smattering of bird heads (bird heads?) but nothing about the Bible or mythology or nude women.

Nothing.  Unless you count the bird heads.

The speculation is that this unfinished oil painting reflects a generally “Titianesque manner” and is probably an early work, deriving from Turner’s experience of Titian at the Louvre in 1802 (1).  There is also a similar black-and-white drawing in Turner’s “Calais Pier” sketchbook – but the figure behind the young woman appears to be a bearded man instead of an older woman.  Either way, how in the bloody hell does one get from:

  • a Pimp or a Procuress (aka Madame) instructing a young woman to use the key in her hand to service a Client, to
  • a chaste, young Old Testament widow who saves her city by decapitating an Assyrian General

Somebody was drinking the wine a little too liberally, is my guess.

(1) Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984 quoted in the description by the Tate Collection.

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Cacciatore


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Judith with the Man in a Boat

I don’t recall anything in the story about Judith escaping back to Bethulia with Holofernes’ head in a boat.  But …

judith (1996) Irene Caesar

Irene Caesar, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” 1996, Paper/pen/ink, 11 x 14 in,

… this depiction puts things in a different light.

Obviously a terrifying light for most men, according to the fascinating Jungian analysis by South African professor of Religion and Theology at University of Kwazulu-Natal –

“Usually, the negative anima is depicted in the form of the femme fatale and finds expression in many of the paintings … for example those of Gustav Klimt, Massys, Von Stuck and Metsys. However, none of these images express the fear of the woman’s castrating sexual potential quite as well as Irene Caesar’s 1996 inkdrawing.

It is because Judith ‘usurps’ the male role and so the male authority and prescription of what woman should be that she is both saint and murdering seductress, chaste, spiritual and carnal. It is also for this reason that she poses such a great threat to the male psyche, which baulks at the thought of a woman so powerful that she can easily beguile a powerful general and cut off his head. The head, being symbolic of the penal head, then conjures up images of the dreaded castration and concomitant loss of power, life and vitality. This element is clearly depicted in Irene Caesar’s drawing to which I referred earlier. The woman kills the man with her overpowering sexuality – note how the woman’s legs and hair surround the man in vulva formation – thus castrating him and subverting his authority, for it is she who is in control, not he” (1)

Castrating female:  isn’t that the reason I started this blog in the first place?

(1) Helen Efthimiadis-Keith, Text and interpretation: Gender and violence in the Book of Judith, Scholarly Commentary and the Visual Arts from the Renaissance Onward, SA ePublications – Old Testament Essays 15, no.1, 2002

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Whorey


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Judith needs a nap

All that planning and plotting, feasting and drinking, seducing and slaying can wear out a woman.

judith (2011) Ralf Heynen

Ralf Heynen, “Judith Young woman on a bed,” 2011, Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm,

This is a new perspective on Judith, and I congratulate the artist for giving her a new look.  Blonde and fully dressed, she does not appear to be the seductress often depicted in contemporary art.  Her violence is implied with the residual blood on her feet, the wall, the bedcovers.  And the frenzy is gone.  She can now relax for a moment before heading back to Bethulia.  Although she should not tarry too long, I can relate to a well-deserved nap.

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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Gory


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Judith is easily distracted


Judith (19th-Century)  Unknown English artist

unknown English artist, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” 19th century, Oil on canvas, 175 x 130 cm, UK Government Art Collection / Department for Culture, Media & Sport, London UK

Judith: “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!”  Hamlet inspires me so.

Maid:  Oh my Lady, not the soliloquies from Shakespeare again.  We really don’t  …

Judith:  Now I’m Hero in Much Ado About Nothing – “Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.”

Maid:  Yes, you have killed him but we really don’t have time for …

Judith:  Hamlet again –I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”

Maid:  Yes, both our behinds will be worse if they catch us with that head ….

Judith:  Here’s Lady Macbeth -.Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Maid:  ME! ME! I would have thought ’cause I had to clean it up!

Judith:  “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night ’till it be morrow.”   That’s Juliet.

Maid:  You can stay here ’till tomorrow by yourself with that head but as Jacques says in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits … ” and I’m taking mine.

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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Distracted


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