Monthly Archives: February 2015

Judith and the Bard

In medieval British culture, a bard was a professional poet, employed by a patron, such as a monarch or nobleman, to commemorate the patron’s ancestors and to praise the patron’s own activities.  From frequent use in Romanticism, ‘The Bard’ became a title to various poets – most notably across time, ‘The Bard of Avon,’ ‘The Immortal Bard’ or simply ‘The Bard’ to an anglophile is William Shakespeare.

The town of Stratford-upon-Avon has been virtually stopped in time to honor England’s most famous poet and playwright.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) is the oldest conservation society in Britain and considered the most significant Shakespeare charity in the world.  The mission of SBT is to promote the appreciation and study of William Shakespeare’s works, and to advance of Shakespearian knowledge by maintaining and preserving the Shakespeare Birthplace properties, a museum, library of books, manuscripts, records of historic interest, pictures, photographs and objects of antiquity associated with the life and times of William Shakespeare.  In fulfillment of that mission, SBT acquired this panel painting in 2014 as a representation of popular art during Shakespeare’s time.



Unknown artist, “Judith beheading Holofernes,” c. 1575, oil on panel, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK


The story of Judith and Holofernes was well known in Shakespeare’s day and it was a popular subject for painters in the 16th and 17th centuries. This panel was painted by an unknown Northern European artist and has been dated to about 1575… It is interesting to wonder whether there is a connection between the Biblical character of Judith and the name chosen by Shakespeare for his second daughter. (1)

I discussed his daughter Judith way-back-when in a post – although I found no significant connection to the biblical Judith.  Just a nice name.

But the reason that posting this painting today is important is not that it was acquired a year ago. No, the importance is … seven weeks from today I will be able to view this for myself at the Shakespeare Birthplace!  So in between the plays and the pubs and the puddings, if it is on display, I can check out this Judith with my own eyes!!

Now excuse me while I go to throw salt over my shoulder and spit three times while twirling around in order not to jinx the trip.


(1) Finding Shakespeare, New Acquisition: Judith and Holofernes, posted on February 21st, 2014 by Paul Taylor


Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Gory


Tags: , , ,

Judith, meet Bacchus

There is more here than meets the eye. More pursuit of freedom and ecstasy.

Judith () Alexis Grimou

Alexis Grimou (1678-1733), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm, Museum of King John III’s Palace at Wilanów, Warsaw, PL


This is a Judith by Alexis Grimou, a French painter who taught himself to paint by copying works of Van Dyck and Rembrandt.  According the to font of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “He painted mainly spirited portraits or portrait scenes, such as women singing and playing musical instruments. He was admitted to the Academy of Paris in 1705, but resigned complaining about the mediocrity of his peers.”  I imagine that observation made him a less-than-popular-guy.  Actually the French Wikipedia says “but his conduct, together with the insolence did off the list in 1709.”  Yes, a slightly different story.  It seems the truth is somewhere in between according to another source: “Although instructed by the Académie to paint as his morceaux de réception portraits of the sculptor Jean Raon (1630-1707) and the painter Antoine Coypel, he failed to present either picture and in 1709 the agrément was annulled.”

But he seems to have enjoyed himself in the ensuing years, as revealed in his self-portraits.  His style is described as “earthy” and harkens back to the Dutch Golden Age for portraits that defied the ascendent French classicism of the Academy.  Amidst this freedom of style, it is curious that he would have selected Judith as a theme – so it is likely this is a commissioned portrait in which the client selected Judith as a historical character to portray.  However, she looks a little uncomfortable with her role – too bad she did not join in the drinking.


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Toper,” Oil on canvas. 101 x 81 cm, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusettes, USA


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Toper,” Oil on canvas. 116.5 x 89.5 cm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Bacchus Self-Portrait,” 1728, Oil on canvas, 101 × 81 cm, Musée Magnin, Dijon, FR




Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Cacciatore


Tags: , , , , , ,

Judith into the Woods

Yesterday I found a pretty basin.  Today, Andrii Bondart takes it into the woods to use it in his photo storyboard about Judith and Holofernes.

Judith, part I

Judith, part II

Judith, part III

Judith, part IV

Bondart is a young photographer from the Ukraine – trained in the UK as well as self-taught.  I can’t decide if he only knows mystically beautiful people or if he just has the skill to make everyone look mystically beautiful.  In this series, he depicts Judith as very earthy – almost blending in with the woodland surroundings – and quite isolated in her violence against Holofernes.  The concrete slab in which she sits in the last photograph is particularly atmospheric – resembling a coroner’s table or a sacrificial altar, and reflecting the harsh, cold nature of her action.

While Bondart’s Judith is spectacular, not all his themes are downers.  I was especially attracted to his other series of Fairytales, in which objects (and a few people) defy gravity. Lighten up and enjoy!

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Whorey


Tags: , , ,

Judith and the Empty Basin

Judith (1530-40) Ewer Basin, Deruta, Italy

Unknown artist, Molded Ewer Basin with Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes, c. 1530-40, earthenware with tin glaze (maiolica), 3.3 x 39.1 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia, US

From the Philadelphia Museum of Art description:

An embossed metal basin probably inspired this design, of which only six examples are known, each with a different central image. In Florence and elsewhere, the biblical heroine Judith sometimes represented civic victory over a powerful foe; however, her depiction as a nude figure is unusual, as is the superior quality of the painting.

They make it sound like they rarely saw a nude Judith or a Judith that was skillfully painted.  Obviously never read this blog.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Cacciatore


Tags: , , ,

Judith, delighted and disturbed

After tackling some of the artwork of Judith that is unclear – both literally and figuratively – it is comforting to return to a classical, straight-forward version of Judith and Holofernes, isn’t it?

Judith () Tommaso Vivo

Tommaso De Vivo (1787–1884), “Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes,” c. 1800, oil on canvas, 298 x 187 cm, Museo Dell’Appartamento Storico Del Palazzo Reale, Naples, IT


Although this appears to be a typical depiction of a conflicted Judith (“Should I or shouldn’t I attack this drunken lout and then butcher him? Let me think for a moment. I mean, it’s not like I do this every day”), there are two elements that are worth noting – one delightful and one disturbing.

Delightful:   The maid in the shadows to the left, keeping watch outside the opening of the tent.  Someone needs to be paying attention and she seems like the one to be practical.

Disturbing:  What IS the large cylindrical object in the upper right corner? I know we are all trained to see inappropriate images in simple cartoon characters these days – and yes, it appears to merely be a quiver of arrows that goes with the large bow.  But if Disney Studios can get into trouble with innocent underwater mermaid castles, then the unusually large and prominently displayed metallic sheath of arrows is alarming .   Maybe the maid should be paying attention to the other side of the room?

1 Comment

Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Distracted


Tags: , , , ,

Judith is sketchy

Here are three of the most notable works by French painter William Laparra


William Laparra, “Head of a girl in a green turban,” 1912, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Paris, FR

William Laparra (French artist, 1873-1920) Woman in Turban

William Laparra, “Girl in a Turban,” 1919, Musée de la Piscine, Roubaxr, France


William Laparra, “La piscine de Bethsaida (Pool of Bethesda),” 1898, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Art, Paris, FR

… and here is Judith.

Judith et Holopherne () William LaParra

William Laparra (1873 -1920), “Judith and Holofernes,”  (c.1900), oil on cardboard, 33 x 41 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, FR



William Laparra (1873 -1920), “Judith and Holofernes,”  (c.1900), oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, FR


Can we safely assume that these were preparatory works to a more complete composition of Judith showing Holofernes’ head to the Bethulians? And can I note the similarities to composition to “The Pool of Bethesda”?

Oddly, at age 22 Laparra won the Prix de Rome –  the French scholarship of the Academy of Fine Arts for young artists to train in Italy- with the painting of Bethesda.  The sketches of Bethulia are not dated, but the prone figure in the lower left is remarkably similar to Laparra’s winning artwork.  Thus it appears that at some point in his career he planned to retry the composition – moving it from New Testament with an angel as the central figure to Old Testament with Judith as the center of attention.

I am so disappointed it was never completed. The implications are that Judith would have been a beauty. And possibly would have sported an elaborate turban.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Distracted


Tags: , , , ,

Judith and the Nine Worthies

I had heard of the Seven Dwarves and the Eight Maids A-Milking, but never have I heard of The Nine Worthies – until today.

The Nine Worthies were characters selected in the Middle Ages to personify the ideals of chivalry and whose symbols became the basis for heraldic imagery.  They were called Les Neuf Preux in France, in Italy i Nove Prodi, and in Germany Neun Helden – meaning “Nine Valiants” – which suggests the characters were selected to represent soldierly courage and generalship. (1)   The original Nine Worthies depicted in a Hans Burgkmayr engraving (1516) included –

  • three pagans (Hector, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar)
  • three Jews from the Old Testament (Joshua, David and Judas Maccabeus)
  • three Christians from the Middle Ages (King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon)

Out of love of symmetry, the Middle Ages also produced the Nine Worthy Women (Les Neuf Preusesneun Heldinnen), and although the lists often vary, they always include Esther and Judith (2):

  • three pagans (Lucretiawife of Brutus, Veturia – mother of Coriolanus, Verginia – whose death prompted the re-establishment of the Roman Republic)
  • three Jewesses from the Old Testament (Esther, Judith and Jael)
  • three Christians from the Middle Ages (St Helena – mother of Constantine the Great, St Brigita of Sweden, and St Elisabeth of Hungary).

Hans Burgkmair, “Three Jewish heroine: Esther, Judith and Jael,” 1516


The heraldic symbols for Judith are described as Gules on a bend sinister argent a ? sable” – which somehow looks like “Gulls on a bent spinster agent named Sable.”   Actually  in the language of heraldry,

  • gules – either the color red or a region of vertical lines
  • bend sinister – a band running from the upper dexter (the bearer’s right side and the viewer’s left) corner of the shield to the lower sinister (the bearer’s left side, and the viewer’s right)
  • argent – the background color, Silver
  • sable – Black, somewhere in there

One of the best depictions of the Nine Worthy Women is found in Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France.  The castle is a medieval structure that had fallen into ruin, but Napoleon III commissioned its repair which took over 25 years (1857 to 1885) and produced an idealised interior typical of the romantic period. (3)  One of the most imposing features is the gallery of Les Neuf Preux and Les Neuf Preuses.

Judith (1860-85) Nine Worthies1

“Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Judith (1860-1885) Nine Worthies2

“Les Neuf Preuses”, 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France



Tsk, it’s too hard to see Judith second from the left. So I’ll give you a little help.

Judith (1860-85) Pierrefonds Castle 1

“Judith in Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Judith () Nine Worthies2

“Judith in Les Neuf Preuses,” 1860-1885, Pierrefonds Castle, Oise, France

Yes, definitely a worthy depiction of Judith. On a pedestal. Wearing a crown. Welding a very imposing sword.  I’d consider this to be satisfactory – even if the shield does not match the previous description.



(1) Cyclopaedia:  The Nine Worthies.

(2) François Velde, Heraldica: The Nine Worthies.

(3) Eupedia, Pierrefonds Castle Travel Guide.


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Glory


Tags: , , ,