Technically, this is not a painting of Judith. Nor is it a painting of a severed head. But it IS a painting of one of the most powerful and vengeful women I have ever seen.
Behold the Cochimi Princess — royalty of the aboriginal people of central Baja California peninsula.
This is one wall of a mural that extends around the atrium and up the stairwell of the Municipal Palace of Loreto, Mexico. The range of historical characters depicted include a Jesuit priest and some local musicians, in addition to regional plants and animals. Other images of this magnificent work by Alejandro Curiel can be viewed on BajaNomad.
In this section of the mural, the Cochimi Princess is larger than life and scary as shit. Sitting upon a throne of golden eagle wings, her upper body is painted black with her eyes rimmed in red. She is depicted as a warrior, with attendants wielding a spear and a bow — flanked by griffins (mythological creatures with the head of an eagle and body of a lion). While there are no severed heads in view, I would not be surprised they are hidden behind the boulders.
Although the princess may be mythological, the Cochimi people of the Baja peninsula were very real. They were first encountered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, then again by Jesuits who came to establish missions in the late 17th century. The Mission San Javier established in 1699 is one example. The cave paintings known as the Great Murals of Baja California are attributed to the Cochimi’s shamanic rituals, and the paintings of Sierra de San Francisco were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993 for their significance to universal cultural traditions.
I imagine that — just as Judith defended the Bethulian’s from the attack of the Assyrians — the Cochimi Princess was prepared to defend the Baja natives from invaders. However, she was unable to defend them from epidemics of Old World diseases that eventually caused the extinction of her culture — leaving only the cave paintings to recall their existence.
Let me add that Loreto and the surrounding area in the Baja Peninsula are charming and historic. On the Sea of Cortez and north of the playground of Cabo San Lucas, Loreto is a cozy waterfront town set between the dramatic “La Giganta” Mountain Range and the Bahía de Loreto National Marine Park. The town was founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries as the first Spanish colonial settlement in the peninsula. The Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto is located in the center of town while Mission San Javier is located in the mountains west of town. Also in the mountains are two of the paintings of Sierra de San Francisco: “Cuevas Pintas” (15 km to the west) and “La Pingüica” (60 km to the North). And if you are really fortunate, you may see Blue Whales breaching and Mobula Rays flying out of the gulf waters — depending on how much local beer and tequila you imbibe.