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.
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.
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.
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 …
And one of my most favorite contemporary artists, a treatment by Kehinde Wiley …
Plus I have to give a nod to the equally lethal Jael ..
It was a good day for a short drive and a gem of an art museum.