Monthly Archives: November 2017

Judith is takes the round way home

My friend recently referred to herself as “zaftig.” I have decided that is my new favorite word, preferred to “Rubenesque.”  According to Merriam-Webster, it means “of a woman – having a full rounded figure, pleasingly plump.”  Zaftig has been in use since the 1930s – deriving from the Yiddish zaftik, which means “juicy” or “succulent.”  Well, isn’t that delicious?

How appropriate that a Yiddish term should aptly describe this powerful portrait of Judith.

Giovanni Cariani (c. 1490–1547), Judith, c. 1510-15, Oil on panel. 69 x 56.5cm, Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi private collection

If you have read this blog before, you already know I prefer Judith to be powerful. And rather proud of her accomplishment. But not so proud or pleased that she creates the impression of a malevolent misandrist.

This Judith appears to strike the right balance of strength and resolve, fortitude and purpose. Although her maid may be in disarray and distress, Judith is portrayed as thoughtful and determined — on the way back to Bethulia to display her prize.

(I also love her jaunty pink sash and matching shawl. A heroine must dress the part!)

Compliments for this portrayal go to Giovanni Cariani, a High Renaissance artist style whose is considered a hybrid of his upbringing in Bergamo and training in Venice.  He first studied in the studio of Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) — “Father of the Venetian Renaissance” — where he was exposed to the works of other well-known students, most notably Giorgione, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, and Sebastiano del Piombo. The  exhibition In the Age of Giorgione (Royal Academy of Arts, London, March 12 to June 5, 2016) examined the various influences that shaped the work of many celebrated names in Renaissance art and, using this Judith as an example, Carina’s style was compared to his contemporaries. As one observer noted –

(In La Vecchia) Giorgione’s lowly sitter maintains a moving quality of self-possession and personal identity, which contrasts with the histrionics of the equivalent figure in Giovanni Cariani’s crude painting of Judith hanging nearby. (1)

Histrionics? HISTRONICS?!! What do you mean HISTRIONICS??!!!  She looks remarkably composed, considering she just behead a general in secret and is now covertly carrying his head in a bag past the rest of his army.

Unless … the critic is referring to the maid as the “equivalent figure” to La Vecchia … in which case I would have to agree.

Giorgione (1477-1510), La Vecchia (The Old Woman), c. 1508, Oil on canvas, 68 x 59 cm, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy


But back to Cariana.  His style could also be compared to Palma il Vecchio (c.1480-1528) and il Pordenone (c.1484-1539) — also of Lombardy and also working in Venice.  Palma il Vecchio did not train with Bellini as did Cariana, but he likely studied under Andrea Previtali (c.1480 –1528) – one of Bellini’s students. There is no documentation that the two artists ever studied or worked together, but certainly their style of sturdy figures in pastoral settings is a reflection of their similar paths. In fact, Palma il Vecchio’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes is one of the most zaftig portrayals I have reviewed. Il Pordenone (aka Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis) also portrayed Judith as sturdy – and has the distinction of three different portraits (seen in “Judith gets serious”). Neither did il Pordenone study with Bellini – but he was a rival to Titian. To the point that there was a rumor than Titian poisoned il Pordenone.

And I thought gossip and intrigue were modern inventions. Some things never change.

(1) Tom Nichols,  “EXHIBITION REVIEW: Giorgione. London,” The Burlington Magazine, June 2016, No. 1359 – Vol 158.






Leave a comment

Posted by on November 11, 2017 in Story


Tags: , , , ,

Judith makes a Happy Homemaker

My trip to The Dayton Art Institute re-envigorated my work on this blog and the pursuit of All Things Judith. I honestly thought I had exhausted the catalog of depictions of Judith – at least those from the before 2010. But I was wrong, and I am happy to be wrong (n this case only): there is more Judith to be found.

And some of it is not so far away.

In Judith Goes Exploring (I), I mused about a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to view Titian’s “Judith with the head of Holofernes” and Gentileshi’s “Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes.” But somehow I missed this statuette by Antonio del Pollaiuolo.

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1432-1498), “Judith”, c1470, bronze with traces of gilding, 50.8×22.9×10.2 cm,The Detroit Institute of Arts/Gift of Eleanor Clay Ford, Detroit, MI


Antonio del Pollaiuolo was a Renaissance artist in Florence – painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith – which leads me to ponder both the Renaissance and Florence and where he fit in with the other artists of his time period.  It is said the Renaissance began in Florence in the 14th century, spurred by a melting pot of factors including the unique political, social and civic aspects of Florence and the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici. The renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman aesthetics led to a humanistic and rational approach to literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, and religion – the focus turning to realism.  One of the major masterpieces of the Early Renaissance are the bronze doors of the Flofence Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti that became famous from their unveiling and influenced subsequent artistic expression. And Pollaiuolo is part of this masterpiece, training in Ghiberti’s workshop along with other rising artists of the time: Donatello, Masolino, Michelozzo, and Uccello.

Of course, Donatello went on to produce his sublime David (c.1440s) and vicious Judith and Holofernes (1457–64). In fact, Pollaiuolo’s statuette has much in common with Donatello’s life size bronze, in terms of her flowing robes and the arm raised with the fachion. But Pollaiuolo’s Judith is minus the dying Holofernes at her feet and appears to be in a better mood with a slight smile on her face.

Perhaps there is a reason for her pleasant expression. Roger J. Crum, in The Sword Of Judith (Brine, Ciletti, and Lähnemann, 2010) surmises that – while David became the public face of Florence’s patriotism – while Judith was essentially back to her domestic life.

Whether representing the act of killing Holofernes, or literally showing a subsequent return to Bethulia, Florentine representations of Judith all variously imply or directly reference the eventual return to domestication of the heroine … Florentine images of Judith were predominantly private and domestic objects. With the exception of Ghiberti’s representation of Judith on the Gates of Paradise, which was obviously for public display, Donatello’s celebrated bronze group, several examples from Botticelli and his circle, a bronze statuette by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, and two engravings attributed to Baccio Baldini all come from the private sphere or were clearly intended for reception in non-public, intimate environments.

So this Judith becomes a household object – something to be a semblance and reminder of feminine virtues. And if you want your Judith to represent a Happy Homemaker, this particular statuette would fit the part nicely.

More reason for me to find time for that trip to Detroit!







Leave a comment

Posted by on November 10, 2017 in Glory


Tags: , , , , ,

Judith out and about: Dayton

So close and yet so far.  The Dayton Art Institute is only 38 miles from my home base, yet I have never ventured there. I’m a little obsessed with fuel efficiency so I was trying to combine the trip with another task, but there was no errand to take me that direction. Or there was an errand – but not enough time to stop. And finally — after all the years of writing this blog –the perfect opportunity presented itself.

Today was a success! Two Judith’s and a special exhibit of Alphonse Mucha!!

One of my earliest posts was “Judith’s chest” — focusing on the story of Judith on a decorated cassone, or bridal chest, crafted by The Master of Marradi. The image was tiny, so it was a thrill to see all 5 feet of the wood panel up close.

The Master of Marradi, “The Story of Judith and Holofernes,” 15th century, Tempera on wood panel, 15.75 x 58.5 in., Dayton Art Museum, Dayton, Ohio, USA

Now that I can get a closer view moving right to left, it is clear Judith is striking a repeated blow to Holofernes neck as the maid waits to catch his severed head — and the soldiers are looking totally disinterested. Those bed curtains must be thoroughly sound-proof.

Next the duo can be seen strolling back to Bethulia with Holofernes’ head in a basket, once again flanked by unsuspecting soldiers.

Then finally the soldiers find the headless body of their commander — mysteriously dressed in his blue armor although he was naked in bad moments before — and they appear to become alarmed. A little late.

So yes — this artwork is much better viewed at close range.

Seeing the second Judith also helped to settle a question. This painting was discussed in “Judith as film noir ” and it was determined that multiple versions exist. Since thousands of miles and over two years separate my view of the original and this copy, it is hard to compare.  But the painting at DAI is definitely not inferior.  Judith is still lovely, the maid is still looking expectantly, and Holofernes is still detached from his body — minus his gaping mouth. However, this painting is incredibly dark in comparison to the photo of the Saraceni in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. So dark I wish I had a flashlight. Even though I appreciate that low lighting can make a woman look … younger.

Carlo Saraceni, “Judith and the Head of Holofernes,” c.1615-1620, Oil on canvas, 46.5 x 42.5 in, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, USA


The other success of the day was the exhibit “Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau.”  The exhibition presents 75 works from the private Dhawan Collection of original lithographs, proofs, drawings, and posters in addition to books and portfolios of one of the originators of French Art Nouveau. Although he never got around to depicting Judith, Mucha did produce a lithograph of Salome (that slut) as a carefree gypsy.  But more importantly, his style did influence later artists who depicted Judith as a sexualized femme fatale in the early decades of the 20th century. And set standards for advertising imagery.

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), “Salome,” 1897, lithograph, 31 × 41 cm, Dhawan Collection


Although Mucha did not have the forethought to immortalize Judith, the museum does have works by other artists that were astute enough to chose her as their subject at one point.   A fine portrait by Henner

Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905), “Head of a Woman”, circa 1900, Oil on canvas, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, USA


And one of my most favorite contemporary artists, a treatment by Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley (1977- ), “The Honourable Augustus Keppel, Admirable of the Blue II”, 2006, Oil on canvas, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, USA


Plus I have to give a nod to the equally lethal Jael ..

Alessandro Turchi (1578–1649), “Jael and Sisera,” circa 1600-1610, Oil on copper, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, USA

It was a good day for a short drive and a gem of an art museum.


Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2017 in Exploring