Seriously. Another Judith attributed to Finson. It’s like a diabolical plot to proliferate the art universe with questionable Finson’s. Who IS this guy?
Louis Finson (also Ludovicus/Lodovicus Fynson/Finsonius – we can’t even get his name straight), was a Flemish painter, son of the painter Jacques Fynson and trained in his father’s studio in Bruges. Early in the 17th century he travelled to Italy (Naples and Rome). It is known that Finson met Caravaggio, copied many of his works, and owned (with Abraham Vinck) at least two of his paintings. After an illustrious career in France, Finson returned to the Low Countries in 1616 and died the next year.
There are almost no dated paintings by Finson before 1610, other than copies of Caravaggio. His earliest two identifiable works are religious, then veer into mythological followed by allegorical.
His subsequent works contain the Mannerist style of his father as well as the naturalist style arising in Naples. These works are dramatic in both physical motion, emotion and lighting. His mocking self-portrait is particularly amusing.
So what happened to Judith? Despite her lovely gown and jewels, she appears to be absolutely exhausted and totally bored. She can barely lift Holofernes’ head. I mean, if it is “the opinion of a knowledgeable nationally or internationally recognized or respected expert on the artist in question” from the famous art house Christie’s that attributes this painting to Finson, then I believe them. But wow. Underwhelmingly, wow. This is one tired Judith.
Once again, there is confusion about the original artist of a painting … and this time it’s between Louis Finson and Artemisia Gentileschi. However, I am fairly certain the artist is not Gentileschi and I understand how that confusion was generated.
But I cannot be one-hundred percent this is the work of Finson. Or when it was created. Or where it is.
Too bad … because I really like it.
Quarantined here behind my computer screen, research is difficult. Well … honestly … research is always difficult. So when confronted with conflicting information, I pull up every image I can find and peruse them for the data I need. Read captions, visit collections, check out videos for background images, scrounge for catalogues, scour provenances and citations, check auction notes, compare the artist’s artwork completed in the same time period – if a date is even available.
In this case, there is little information to pursue and the vast majority of images are attributed to Finson. The image was associated with the exhibition “Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo tempo (Artemisia Gentileschi and her times)” at the Palazzo Braschi in Rome, November30, 2016 to May 7, 2017 – which is how I suspect it was incorrectly attributed to Gentileschi on some websites. But neither can I find a reason to legitimately connect it to Finson. It could be his work – or from his workshop – or in his inventory as an art seller. I sometimes wonder if his name gets slapped on paintings in the ether of the internet instead of resorting to Unknown.
There is a catalogue from the exhibit available from booksellers that might answer the question. Or it might confirm that the painting was never in the collection of 100 artworks to begin with. But how much am I willing to pay for that?
Until I can answer those questions, I am content to say this is an exceptional depiction of Judith that deserves to be credited to someone. Her gaze at the viewer is evocative and the emotion is ambiguous – is she surprised and wary? or defiant? The viewer is invited to wonder. Her coif is elaborate, with countless, luminous pearls. A jeweled bracelet is prominent on her forearm closest to the viewer, emerging from a richly ruched sleeve of shining gold fabric. Her skirt and bodice are intricately embroidered, and the sash of light blue-green provides a sharp contrast to in the center of the composition. All those elegant elements providing an exquisite backdrop to the gory severed head of Holofernes giving us the side-eye with a gaping mouth.
This is quite a find among the “Dangerous Women.” A Judith by Artemisia Gentileschi that I have never seen!
Unless it is actually painted by someone else – like Louis (Ludovico) Finson? Or is it the trap of conducting research on the internet without a degree in art history?
From the catalog:
… Showing Judith gesturing to the severed head as her maidservant looks on, the present painting, which seems to have been somewhat reduced from its original dimensions, has been attributed by Claudio Strinati to Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the seventeenth century and herself one of the great heroines of feminist art history.
Artemisia was born in Rome, the only daughter of the artist Orazio Gentileschi, under whom she trained. At the age of seventeen she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a family friend and Orazio’s artistic collaborator. During the infamous trial that followed, Artemisia testified and was tortured. After the trial she married and moved to Florence, and it is to this period that Strinati has dated the work, noting that the distinctive features of Judith, shown in profile, correlate well with other works from this period in which Artemisia cast herself in the role of the female protagonist. Indeed, Artemisia seems to have used her own image frequently in works she produced in Florence … Here, the choice of representing herself as a virtuous heroine who has triumphed over an oppressor might be underscored by Strinati’s suggestion that the head of Holofernes is a portrait of Agostino Tassi.
Aha!! A sensationalized story worthy of more research!!
And then I found this –
I realize this is a really bad image. I realize this could easily be a copy of Gentileschi’s original work. I also realize someone somewhere in the art world could have been mistaken. And I realize Claudio Strinati (who attributed the former artwork to Gentileschi) is considered a preeminent expert in painting and sculpture of the Renaissance and 17th century art. Compared to me, an amateur internet sleuth.
You never know what you might learn when writing a blog. Or the connections you might make.
Jacques de Létin was a French painter, primarily of religious scenes, during the early 17th century. However, many of his paintings were destroyed or disappeared during the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War and World War II.
I think of the waste when art is destroyed carelessly (as in wars) or intentionally (as in social revolutions). I ask myself if the art depicting ideas we no longer accept can still be considered important as artistic excellence. I’m trying to think of outmoded ideas that remain in museums and art books as images we consider epic – ideas like slavery, the subjugation of women, physical and sexual abuse. Violence like decapitation …
… like two women who look very satisfied to be carrying a severed head in a basket back to Bethulia so they can stick it on a pike at the city gate. I guess that’s why they included them as “Dangerous Women.”
I have been thinking about this post and this post a lot.
You see, it only lately occurred to me that the head being casually held by Judith was actually me.
Not until the controversy about the Kehinde Wiley portrait of President Obama. It was then pointed out to me that the head of Holofernes had been replaced with the head of a female (not male) who is white (not Assyrian). Even then I could brush it off as artistic license, think of the change up as “clever,” and continue on to my yoga class. Stretching my white privilege.
But it remained a question in the back of my mind: what does that mean? Does Wiley see me – within the legion of white women – as the oppressor who is coming to attack Judith?
On the one hand, I dismissed the allusion by broadly quoting Wiley.“The whole conversation of my work has to do with power and who has it.” Which is true. From the North Carolina Museum of Art’s commentary:
This new rendition can be interpreted on many different levels, including racial and gender identity and inequity, the representation of women throughout art history, and society’s ideals for beauty. In Wiley’s words, “I am painting women in order to come to terms with the depictions of gender within the context of art history. One has to broaden the conversation . . . This series of works attempts to reconcile the presence of black female stereotypes that surrounds their presence and/or absence in art history, and the notions of beauty, spectacle, and the ‘grand’ in painting.”
Those are the reasons I initially celebrated Wiley’s depictions of Judith. It’s just artistic expression recreating images from the past.
But those are not the reasons I think of these images since May 25, 2020 – the day George Floyd died. The day that set off protests and riots for three weeks and changed the conversation about systemic racism in the United States. The day I could no longer ignore my own complicity in racial oppression in this country.
So, on the other hand (the hand holding my head by the iconic suburban pony tail), I have to examine myself. In these images, I can no longer claim to be Judith the Righteous Protector: in these images I am Judith the Villian as Passive Bystander. I think of the admonitions of Elie Weisel –
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
Failing to take sides, being indifferent, failing to protest. These are the hallmarks of white privilege that have shielded white women. That have shielded me. Even as I may whine that I don’t deserve to be cast as Holofernes, I have to ask what I have done or did not do to address the inequalities that in front of my face every day. As the Forgiveness of Sins asks in the Book of Common prayer: “we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed – by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” I have to ask what I CAN and WILLdo to relieve the suffering of of my neighbors who do not share my privilege.
There are answers for each of us. It is a work in progress. And I will keep Wiley’s images of Judith before me to spur that progress. Because their dramatic influence is not just about beauty and spectacle but about who has privilege and power – and how it is used.
For an excellent examination of the problems of engagement with art as it relates to Wiley’s portrait of Obama, visit Seph Rodney’s commentary.
“The present painting originated in the workshop of Carlo Saraceni, and is based on the Judith and Holofernes (Madrid, private collection) dating to the first decade of the 17th century, rediscovered by Gianni Papi … The popularity of this composition, a typical and appealing example of Roman painting during the first decades of the 17th century, is supported by the existence of two additional versions, one in the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona, the other at the Gemäldegalerie Dresden.” Lot No. 286, Palais Dorotheum
Workshop of Carlo Saraceni (1579–1620), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” oil on panel, 62.5 x 50 cm, Lot No. 286 auctioned April 21, 2015 by Palais Dorotheum, Vienna, AT
After Carlo Saraceni (1579–1620), “Judith and her Servant with the Head of Holofernes,” oil on copper, 36 x 28 cm, Lot No. 5 auctioned March 25, 2015 by Tajan, Paris, FR
And what more can I say about this Saraceni? It looks entirely different from the previous depictions of Judith, which displayed highly dramatic lighting. These remind me of Fede Galizia, with her rich attention to fabric and jewels – discussed here and here. Which is why the attribution says “Workshop of …” and “After …” Some things just make sense.
According to the catalog from the exhibitor, “Saraceni painted the popular subject of Judith with the Head of Holofernes twice in his career, in two different compositions; both exist in numerous versions by the artist and his workshop.” The numerous versions would explain why I keep finding them in various locations.
The provenance of this specific painting is:
Sotheby’s, London, 31 October 1979, lot 21
Ruggero Poletti, Lugano
Carlo Saraceni (1579-1620), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c. 1610-18, oil on canvas, 92×76.5 cm, exhibited in “Dangerous Women” (June 17 – July 3, 2020) by Robilant+Voena, London, ENG
In Judith as Film Noir, I covered four versions. Due to the addition of the red curtain in the upper right corner, this is obviously the version found on Artnet.com and Mutualart.com. And it has been auctioned several times since 1979.
And I will repeat the same question I ask every time: Why does the maid have THE BAG IN HER TEETH??
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
Carlo Saraceni (1579-1620), “Judith Presenting the Head of Holofernes,” 1610-1615, oil on canvas, 90 x 79 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Exhibited in “Alberto Longhi – from Giotto to Caravaggio” (Mar 27, 2015) at the Jacquemart-André Museum, Paris
Attributed to Saraceni, found on both Artnet.com and Mutualart.com
It isn’t often that Judith is shared by two generations. First, there was the illustrious Gentileschi family – father Orazio and daughter Artemisia. And today we have the Vaccaro family – father Andrea and son Nicola.
Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670) was one of the most successful painters in Naples at the time the city was ruled by Spain. Like his contemporaries, his work is heavily influenced by Caravaggio but he also incorporated artistic developments over the years he was active. Judith reflects the early part of his career when his tenebrism was most dramatic – rather harsh and less illuminated. Yet, the elegance of his subjects shines through in the detail of our heroine’s parted lips to her white-knuckled grasp of Holofernes’ hair. The red sash that centers the composition is particularly enchanting – even as it mirrors the crimson blood of her victim’s severed neck.
Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c. 1620, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 101 cm, exhibited in “Dangerous Women” (June 17 – July 3, 2020) by Robilant+Voena, London, ENG
Looking across the works of Andrea, it appears he specializes in “The Heavenly Gaze.”
In contrast, the former Judith appears delicate next to portrayals by the son, Nicola Vaccaro (1640-1709). I stumbled across Nicola when I wrote Judith shakes her Pom-Poms and Judith, Warrior Princess. The two works evidence a slight shift style of the son, moving from subtle to outright drama with The Heavenly Gaze replaced by The Withering Glare.
Nicola Vaccaro , “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1680,198 x 254 cm, auctioned by Blanchet 11/18/2009 (Lot 38).
Nicola Vaccaro, “Judith,” c. 1685-1695, Oil on canvas, 85 x 73 cm, auctioned by Christie’s 12/6/2001 (Lot 320)
Even Nicola’s angels look kinda pissed off. Is it too early to discuss anger issues?
This is the work of Claude Vignon. Vignon was a French painter and illustrator whose work is hard to categorize within a single style. His paintings included portraits, scenes and religious themes with diversity of color and expression – assimilating elements from Mannerism to Venetian, Southern to Northern Renaissance art. Vignon was prolific in more ways than one: he fathered 24 documented children and perhaps as many as 35 children.
Vignon’s Judith was painted early in his career, prior to his return to France from Rome. His portrayal clearly shows the influence of Caravaggio and his tenebrism – almost to the point of missing Holofernes’ head in the shadows. But we are able to see the elaborate feathers in her headdress and the rich texture of her brocade gown. And the slightly stunned expression on Judith’s face.
Claude Vignon (1593-1670), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” 1616-1622, oil on canvas, 102 × 82 cm, exhibited in “Dangerous Women” (June 17 – July 3, 2020) by Robilant+Voena, London, ENG
This is the work of Francisco del Cairo, discussed in an earlier post here. Cairo was a court painter for the House of Savoy in Turin, Italy, and also a painter of frescos across Northern Italy. Although painted ten years later, Cario’s placement of characters has an eerie resemblance to that of Vignon. He similarly employs the tenebrism of Caravaggio, and dresses it up with a rich velvet gown. And the same slightly stunned expression on Judith’s face. But, oh, the turban is a fierce replacement for the frothy feathers in Vignon’s depiction.
Francisco del Cairo, “Judith with the Head Holofernes,” 1630-35, oil on canvas, 119 x 94 cm, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, USA
So take your pick: which one of these portraits of Judith do you feel is the most dangerous?
FOR MY BIRTHDAY!!! After months of nothingness in the art of Judith, I hit the jackpot with this –
DANGEROUS WOMEN: THE LEGACY OF CARAVAGGIO’S JUDITH, 17 JUNE – 3 JULY 2020
Baroque painters were fascinated by the dangerous women of the Old and New Testaments, the femmes fatales whose lethal beauty and erotic wiles lured men towards destruction or even death. While Judith and Jael were cast as heroines who seduced the enemy and committed bloody acts to liberate the Israelites from their oppressors, treacherous temptresses Delilah and Salome used the same means to perfidious ends. Baroque artists explored these narratives with their characteristic flair for the dramatic and penchant for the macabre, foregrounding complex issues around female virtue, beauty, sexuality, rage, and power whose relevance endures today.
And out of the eight Dangerous Women in the exhibit, Judith accounts for FIVE! (Which I will discuss for the next five days). The other Dangerous Women include:
Claude Mellan, “Samson and Delilah,” late1620s Giovanni Stefano Danedi called Montalto, “Jael and Sisera,” early 1640s
Attributed to Juan Bautista Maino, “Salome with the Head of Saint John The Baptist,” c 1611
(But of course, the marketing image for the exhibit depicts that slutty Salome holding a tray, when she is only included once. Hmpf).
Robilant +Voena also provide these links to extend education about the exhibit. Enjoy!
Watch our new video on Caravaggio’s influence on cinema’s femme fatale here.
Read the catalogue of for the Ringling Museum’s exhibition ‘Dangerous Women’ here.
Visit the North Carolina Museum of Art’s new acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s Judith and Holofernes here.
See Robilant+Voena’s exhibition featuring biblical Dangerous Women and Kehinde Wiley’s modern descendant here.
yes, the title says my name is "Judith, to you." and it's as arrogant as it sounds. that's what happens when a giggley little girl is bestowed a heavy-weight name like Judith. but it's time to own my name. to be Shakespearean and wonder "What's in a name?" to learn about the artwork inspired by the name. to contemplate how a widow in a gleaming gown can decapitate a brute - and not muss her nails. join me in the bumpy ride through history and art and social change, all in the name of Judith.