Category Archives: Gory

bloodstained, bloody, covered with gore, sensational – in which Judith is depicted with gratuitous images of slaughter

Judith in the Attic

Art Dealer Says Painting Found in French Attic Is a Caravaggio


One-hundred thirty-six million dollars.

Judith (1600-10) Caravagio

Michelangelo Merisi detto Caravaggio (1573-1610), “Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1600-10, oil on canvas,  144 x 175 cm, Eric Turquin Expertise, Paris, France


Oddly, this looks a lot like a painting of Judith discussed July 30, 2011 in “Judith and the Not-So-Big-One” – and I was unable to locate it in Milan where it is owned by a bank.

Judith (1607) Caravaggio

Caravaggio or Finson, “Judith With The Head Of Holofernes,” 1607, Oil on canvas, 140 x 160 cm, Collezione Banca Commerciale Italiana, Naples, Italy


And oddly, the source of this painting is up for debate.  Perhaps this is the copy and the one in the attic is the original?  Or this is the original and the one in the attic is the copy?

Either way, I doubt that I will be spending $136 million. Or even half that for a copy.

I am merely happy that Judith still makes headlines.



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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Gory


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Judith and the Clown

ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES EVER – this depiction of Judith comes with THE ARTIST’S SKETCHBOOK!  It’s the next-best-thing to reading the mind of Jerome Witkin.  From this vantage point, the viewer can trace the progress of Witkin’s thoughts about constructing the Judith story.  And his thoughts on his role an artist:

I wish to be remembered as a religious artist who attempted to portray the most intimate range of human feelings and the meetings of the human with life’s demons and deities…. Art and the holy are twins. Rembrandt, Kollwitz pray with muddy and bloody hands. (1)

But first, to introduce the artist. Jerome Witkin is a figurative artist who delves into political, social and cultural themes. That is an understatement.  Witkin is considered one of the most relevant artists of the last few decades – turning figurative narrative works into a passionate expression of basic human conditions.  His canvases exude both humor and suffering in the storytelling of homelessness and the Holocaust.  A casual blog is too small a space to give credit to Witkin; an entire book is a better way to travel the landscape of the intensity of his work (see Sherry Chayat ‘s Life Lessons: The Art of Jerome Witkin, 2006).  For today, the focus is on Judith and Witkin’s re-creation of her story in 1979.

Prior to and during this composition, Witkin had endeavored with the larger-than-life murals “Kill-Joy, To the Passion of Kathe Kollwitz (Kreischerville Wall)” (1975-76) and “Death As An Usher: Berlin, 1933″ (1979-82) relating to the catastrophe of war and the Holocaust.  “The Act of Judith” is small potatoes in comparison – smaller in size and smaller in emotional scope.  According to Chayat:

During this period, Witkin began exploring portraiture as a vehicle for psychological narrative. Working with the model as a collaborator in mutually created dramatic poses, he developed an epic portrait style using mythology, both historical and contemporary, to probe his own and other’s anxieties, fears, and fantasies.

This period of exploration would produce “Madonna della Baggies,” “St. Fischera, and “Screams of Kitty Genovese” as well as “The Act of Judith.”

A few pages from The Act of Judith Sketchbook provide clues to Witkin’s creative process for Judith –

Page 2 Page 5Page 19Page 20

Removed from contemporary realities of death and destruction, the subject of Judith reverts to an Old Testament narrative that may-or-may-not be true.  On spectrum of interpretation of the story, Witkin’s Judith is less virtuous and more vile as she taunts the viewer with a clownish Mask of Death.

Or is it a Mask?

Judith (1979) Jerome Witkin

Jerome Witkin (1939 – ), “The Act of Judith,” 1979–80, Oil on canvas, 60 x48 inches, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University State College, Pennsylvannia, US

The use of light and dark enhances the ominous atmosphere of the run-down interior, with brightness dissolving into a demonic red cast on the right wall.  Judith stands half in shadow, her face almost obscured – but the hand with the knife clearly outlined by the brightness escaping from the torn curtain in the background.  The hand that holds forth the mask is also illuminated by a light that gives a grisly gleam to the ghoulish features.

And the most disturbing feature of all?  Almost unseen, the hand of the viewer in the lower right corner.  Fingers curled, they convey grasping, begging, desperation.  Suggesting a disabled Holofernes prostate beneath Judith’s gaze, suggesting that we are the disabled victim – and she is expressionless with no sympathy to offer.

The world of Witkin is a harsh reality of muddy and bloody hands.

(1) Joel C. Sheesley, “Jerome Witkin: A Profile,” Image,Issue #11, Fall 1995

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Gory


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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


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Judith and the Trophy

Judith (2013) Karel Trakter

Karel Trakter, “Judith and Holofernes,” 2013, acrylic and carboncillo on paper, 76 x 50 cm, Pintrest: Karel Trakter. Plastic artist.

I am having trouble finding the words I need to describe this work by Karel Trakter of Bilbao, Spain.  Trakter’s other work is often focused on figures –  flowing in motion and striking exaggerated poses.   Dancers and models.  Long limbs.






But here is Judith.  Static. Crouching. Clutching the detached head of Holofernes as light radiates from behind.

Or is she clutching the head?  The story leads us to believe that the decapitation was a necessary means to the end of defending Bethulia – thus it makes sense that she would clutch the head.   Grip, grasp, clasp, clench, hold tightly or eagerly so the prize would not be lost.

But if you did not know the story – AND if you did not look at the blood oozing from the severed head onto Judith’s thigh – AND if you only consider Judith’s face, she seems to be looking with reverence at the head.   Very peaceful and serene – almost admiring and appreciative, almost caressing the head instead of clutching it.  Like a Madonna.  Am I reading this wrong?

Or maybe she is simply tremendously satisfied with her accomplishment and is gently fondling the head as her cherished trophy.

In any case, this work by Trakter is mesmerizing in the many and changing interpretations and in the tension and emotion of the composition. It is worthy of study for a long time.

And for those who are so fortunate, here is Judith in Restaurante Kasko for a public exhibition of Trakter’s work.  If you hurry, it opened a week ago and is probably still there!!


Personal Exposition of Karel Trakter, Restaurante Kasko, Bilbao, Spain, February 5, 2015


And you will have the added pleasure of viewing these intoxicating works by Trakter, which show his talents with dazzling color.  Shh … don’t make Judith jealous.


Karel Trakter, “Fallen angel,” 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm


Karel Trakter, “Achilles and Patroclus,” 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 85 cm



Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Gory


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Judith takes an axe

Here’s a game.  Connect these four things:  Judith of Bethulia, Lizzie Borden, Gone With The Wind, and Drew Barrymore.

Hint:  It all revolves around Nance O’Neil.

Judith (1904) Nance O'Neil by Will Armstrong

Will Armstrong (1866-193?), Nance O’Neill in “Judith of Bethulia” 1904, Library of Congress, Photographs-Biographical Files-O’Neil –  found in PHOTOGRAPHY & THE AMERICAN STAGE: The Visual Culture of American Theater 1865-1965 by Dr. David S. Shields, McClintock Professor, University of South Carolina


Nance O’Neil (October 8, 1874 – February 7, 1965) was an American actress of stage and silent cinema of the early 20th century, dubbed the American Bernhardt.  She could also stand on for Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester on Glee at 6 feet tall.

A critic in The New York Times wrote of O’Neil’s talents (or lack of talents) in 1908, her performances seemed to be uneven but enthralling enough to keep her working from 1902-1932:

There is no actress on the stage at present who has a more remarkable gift for emotional expression, nor is there a single one who has been more lavishly endowed by nature with the physical gifts which enter into the equipment of great actresses.  Miss O’Neil has a kind of massive beauty, and she is not without much natural grace. Her voice is a splendid organ, rich and deep, with plenty of color and sweetness. There are moments when it is expressive of deep feeling. But there are more extended periods when it is pitched in monotonous cadences, during which the actress speaks seem to be delivered without a hint of genuine feeling or understanding, when, in short, she is simply an actress giving voice to words that she has conned and learned by rote and delivered in a sort of phonographic manner without a suggestion of the thought behind them. (1)

O’Neil was born Gertrude Lamson and denounced by her father for pursuing a career on the stage.  She was first noted in 1895 as an actress in the touring repertory company of McKee Rankin – a character actor, company manager and playwright.  After a tour to Australia and other Pacific locations, Rankin’s company went to London in 1902 to debut the play Magda with O’Neil as the lead.  She went on to appear as the lead in many other productions in the United States and Europe – including the title role in Judith of Bethulia by Thomas Bailey Aldrich for 16 performances (Dec 5 -19, 1904) at Daly’s Theatre on  Broadway.  She eventually went to Hollywood to try silent movies (The Kreutzer Sonata, 1915) and successfully transitioned to sound films of 1930-31 (Ladies of LeisureRoyal Bed, and The Rogue Song, Cimarron and Transgression), with her final role in False Faces (1932).

Her theater pedigree with Rankin connects her to both actress Drew Barrymore and Gone with the Wind through his three daughters who also acted with his company:

  • Gladys Rankin (married to Sidney Drew, sister-in-law to Georgiana Emma Drew, aunt to Lionel and John Barrymore, great-aunt to John Drew Barrymore, great-great-aunt to Drew Barrymore)
  • Phyllis McKee Rankin (married to Harry Davenport, mother of Arthur Rankin and grand-mother of producer and director Arthur Rankin, Jr.  After the death of Phyllis in 1934, Harry Davenport entered motion pictures and became famous as Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind)
  • Doris Marie Rankin (married to actor Lionel Barrymore, aunt of John Drew Barrymore, great-aunt to Drew Barrymore)
Sid Drew and Gladys Rankin

Sidney Drew & Gladys Rankin

Phyllis Rankin

Phyllis Rankin


Harry Davenport


Doris Rankin

Lionel Barrymore

Lionel Barrymore

John & Drew Barrymore

John & Drew Barrymore


So that explains three-out-of-four connections.  Now the real kicker.

In 1904, O’Neil met Lizzie Borden in Boston.  You remember Lizzie Borden, the one with the axe?  She obviously journeyed from Fall River to Boston to see a show (the preview of Judith of Bethulia at the Tremont Theater on October 13, 1904?) and met O’Neil.  They became fast friends – enough to incite gossip when O’Neil moved into Borden’s house and to cause a rift with Lizzie’s sister, Emma.

Nance was beautiful, glamorous, and most importantly, nonjudgmental. For Nance, Lizzie had money and a comfortable lifestyle. The actress had always struggled with financial problems and Lizzie seemed willing to support her in a lifestyle she preferred. What the exact nature of their relationship was is open to interpretation. We know that for a time Nance made her permanent home with Lizzie. In the truest sense of the word, Lizzie was quite smitten by Nance. It is known that Nance was acknowledged in theater circles as a lesbian. And Emma did not approve of Lizzie’s relationship with Nance. It soon became apparent that the house was not big enough for the three of them. And since Lizzie was not letting go of the actress, Emma made the decision to move out. This relationship would put a final wedge in the sisters’ living arrangement. Emma moved out of Maplecroft and never returned to live there.(2)

There is speculation of another relationship that could have contributed to the division between the two sisters (3), but most historians credit the relationship between Lizzie and Nance as the catalyst for Emma’s departure from the house in June 1905 – possibly after arguing over a party Lizzie had given for O’Neil and her theater friends (4).  The relationship Lizzie and O’Neil continued for two years, at which point Nance returned to her acting.

Apparently, good gossip never dies but becomes a script for a stage play or TV movie.  The speculation about the relationship between Nance and Lizzie is treated in several performance works –

  • Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe, a musical by Christopher McGovern and Amy Powers (2001)
  • Nance O’Neil, a play by David Foley (2011)
  • The Lights are Warm and Coloreda play by William Norfolk (1969)
  • Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, a TV Movie by Stephen Kay (2014)

I would have included Fall River Legend, a ballet by Agnes DeMille (1948), and Lizzie Bordenan opera by Jack Beeson (1965), but both of them conclude before Nance O’Neil enters the scene.  I also did not mention Lizzie Borden’s Revenge (2013) about a sorority séance that  involves mostly lingerie, no Nance O’Neil, and not much plot.  I have to apply some standards.

Lizbeth Borden

Lizbeth Borden











(1)  “Nance O’Neil’s Acting and What It Represents,” The New York Times”, October 11, 1908.

(2) Jill Nicholson, Lizzie Borden: Maplecroft, Lizbeth and Nance O’Neil,

(3) Gertrude Lamson aka Nance O’Neill, The Lizzie Borden Society Forum.

(4) “Sisters Estranged Over Nance O’Neill”The San Francisco Call. June 7, 1905.

Also a great source of information on the relationship of Borden and O’Neil is Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts


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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Gory


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Judith studies anatomy

She is small – but mighty.  And she is somewhere out there.  I just don’t know where.

UNEONE since 1993 holofernes and judith

Fidel Ordonez (Uneone) (1974 – ), “Judith and Holofernes”

I present the street art of Uneone, an artist born in Mexico City and based in Calgary.  His artwork has been displayed in galleries, contemporary spaces, wall buildings magazines and books since 2003 throughout Mexico, Europe and States.  In his website, he states the focus of his work is the relationship between disorder, pattern and texture – most recently “human figurative monsters inspired by the eighteenth century by diferent artists who ilustrated the Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (Divine Comedy) he enjoys the interplay of lines details and texture and strives to create a visual reaction within each piece.”

My thoughts on this piece are circumscribed by the limited context and actual borders.  I am not sure I am seeing the entire artwork.  But with that qualification, it is still obvious that this is a monumental struggle in which Holofernes represents the monster with his sharp, grotesque angles – although Judith appears rather harsh as well.  Especially with her orbital socket that looks like it is fractured, probably in the knock-down-drag-out fight with her intended victim.

Yet there is much else to be gleaned from this depiction, from which –

  • I learned a lot about the muscles and tendons of the neck and shoulders.


  • I learned a little about the pros and cons of buttock augmentation

butt aug

  • I have concerns about the lethal nature of Holofernes’ phallus


  • I approve of Judith’s Grace Kelly hairstyle



Posted by on February 5, 2015 in Gory


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Judith and Body Art

I think is the flowers that attract me.  Big, bold red flowers amid lush, curling greenery.

Then the unfolded fan.  I’ve always had a thing for hand-held fans and their secret, unspoken code of messages.

And in the dark regions, the words “Ecce Homo” – Behold the Man – certainly stirs my curiosity.

Judith (2013) Justinas Krasuckas

Justinas Krasuckas, “Holofernes Beheading Judith,” 2013, oil on canvas, 80×100 cm,


Plus it brings back good times with Lafayette Reynolds and Jesus Velasquez.


Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds in HBO’s True Blood


Kevin Alejandro as Jesus Velasquez in HBO’s True Blood



But back to being serious …

This is a gender-bending self-portrait by Justinas Krasuckas, freelance concept artist, designer and painter from Vilnius, Lithuania. – executed for the Young Painter Prize contest in his country.  Gender-bending because it places Krasuckas in the role of Judith – something I rarely see, com to think of it.  His vision was “to recontextualize historical moments in my painting” through a classical realistic approach to represent his idea more clearly.

One of the main idea of this painting is to show human experience in contemporary society. Then I painted this work I always asked myself: what is humanity? Where are the boundaries of humanity? What is society standpoint and opinion towards marginal people? I am not social critic, so I give freedom everybody to interpret this painting as they want. In this painting I was particularly interested in symbols of pop culture – tattoos, piercing, hairstyles etc. To add more power to painting, I have chosen more tragic atmosphere. I do not want to restrict viewer by my narrated form of painting, so I give freedom to interpret humanity as a whole theme.

Those are bold, expansive questions – to which I have no answer.  But they are thought-inspiring, which should be the goal of any art -yes?  Even body art, I suppose.  And especially dark art.

I am simply pleased that Judith retains her significance and her symbolism in contemporary society – and is still relevant in communication of social issues.  Her longevity is quite amazing.

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Posted by on February 1, 2015 in Gory


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