Category Archives: Story

account, anecdote, drama, history, legend, narrative – in which the events of Judith’s life are told

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.






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Posted by on November 11, 2017 in Story


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Judith out and about: Bloomington

Oh my, where has the time gone? I am so far behind — so many Judith’s to discuss and so disorganized. But I must start somewhere so, this appears to be the spot.

In the center of the picturesque campus of Indiana University is the Art Museum. It is located on the Fine Arts Square, next to the centerpiece Showalter Fountain that depicts Venus being born from a clam shell amidst frolicking dolphins.  The Museum’s collection includes more than 45,000 works organized into nine curatorial areas, allowing visitors to take an extraordinary global journey through three floors in I. M. Pei’s iconic triangular building.  And almost immediately inside the first gallery is “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” by Matteo di Giovanni. (discussed in “Judith begins modeling,” January 9, 2012)

Judith (1490-1495) Matteo di Giovanni

Matteo di Giovanni, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c.1490-95, Tempera on panel, 55.9 x 46 cm, Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

It is actually larger than I imaged and prominently displayed at the gallery entrance.  Consequently, I was quite proud of our heroine.

And little further in is Antiveduto Grammatica’s “Judith with the Head of Holofernes.” (discussed  in “Judith gives directions,” November 7, 2011).  Not quite as impressive but much larger and worth a trip to the IU campus if you crave a Baroque Judith.

Judith (1591-1624) Antiveduto Grammatica (2)

Antiveduto Grammatica, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c.1620–25, Oil on canvas, 120 x 93 cm, Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in Story


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Judith and the moment of tension

If you want to know anything about Hugo Von Habermann the Elder, ask Sabine Scheele – a woman who wrote her masters thesis about Hugo von Habermann and then created the website  Maybe I am getting lazy, but her website covers every aspect of Von Habermann, so … there really is not much more to add.

Von Habermann’s Judith was completed early in his career, when he was concerned with topics from the Bible and classical history.  Later, he would focus on portrait painting.  As Scheele describes the scene (translated from German):

Habermann opted for a scene in the Judith story not yet shown up to this time; the provocatively dressed widow bends over Holofernes, to get to his sword, and then decapitate him. By this design is created great tension within the image and the viewer, especially also because the painting is almost life-size.


Judith (1873) Hugo Von Habermann the Elder

Hugo Von Habermann the Elder (1849–1929), “Judith ind Holofernes.” 1873, oil on canvas, 176 x 114 cm, auctioined by Galerie Konrad Bayer Munich GR


Sorry I could not find the life-sized version, but I suspect it is very dramatic.  It certainly does create the tension that Scheele describes:  the slow and stealthy movements of Judith, the expectation on her mind, the fear that one false move could ruin the plan, the determination to complete what she has started.

A later entry to my collection of Judith’s, but a worthy addition and important part of the story.

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Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Story


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Judith goes for the throat

The throat of an opera singer, that is.

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 1

Tyson Vick, “The Widow of Manasses,” 2013,

You may recall that Tyson Vick has been here before in Judith finds her voice (Nov 2011).  His blog chronicles his photography that illustrates the operas of Mozart as well as his learning about textiles, historical costuming, wig styling, millinery, and photoshop techniques in the process.  This time he is back with more elaborate costuming and photography of Judith – and two big prizes for his photography! Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) – which includes members world-wide from all genres of photography, including fine art, commercial, and advertising – conducts two Members Only Competitions each year.  In 2014, Tyson Vick won first place in the Creative Division – Composite of Members Only First Half Competition with “Judith, Triumphant” AND third place for “Don Giovanni Act 2.”  But enough about Don Giovanni and back to Judith.

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 2b

Tyson Vick, “Judith, Triumphant,” 2013,

Isn’t she stunning?  I mean, it’s easy to see why Holofernes lost his head. Not only is the photography award winning, but the costuming – based on the portraits of Judith by Lucas Cranach the Elder – is exquisite.  The construction of this luscious gown is detailed here, with lively commentary by Vick – who loves to indulge in one of my favorite things:  sewing in front of the television.  (Yes, I was groomed for genteel evenings with an embroidery hoop before the hearth rather than a sweaty hour of Zumba but alas those days are gone.)  Vick also photographed his progress so that the intricate details of the gown can be appreciated off the model.


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,

The final photograph is Judith in action, on stage during Act 2 of Mozart’s Betulia Liberata.  Composed in 1771 when Mozart was 15 years old, it is the only oratorio he ever wrote.  Maybe he thought one was enough?

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 3

Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata, Act 2,” 2013,


Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Story


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Judith, Judith and Judith

Christian Bahr is kind enough to indulge my clumsy dance with abstract art.

And I was totally honest with him that I know NOTHING about abstract art.  I can appreciate that it is an expression of a subjective viewpoint without rules or limits, I can try to drop all expectations and experience it – but my attempts to discuss it are akin to an 8th grade boy at his first class in ballroom dancing.  Two Left Feet.

However, I CAN be Jungian and indulge in symbols and associations.  In fact, I am so good at symbols and associations that I was once told I gave too many answers to an inkblot test – which means I suffer from chronic apophenia.  But if you read this blog with any regularity, you already figured that out.

So today I will apply my Two Left Feet to Bahr’s blazing triptych: Judith and Holofernes.

Judith triptych

Christian Bahr, “Judith & Holofernes triptych,” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 390 x 120 cm,


What Bahr says of his own work:

I bring up the human search of reality as a conflict between inner and outer world, because only the subjective perception is true and real. I dissect the truth behind a supposed reality that surrounds us and keeps up appearances. We are surrounded by only skin-deep impressions as moral and social benchmarks and they try to infiltrate and to manipulate our sensing, feeling and thinking. I discuss the question: what really defines us – you and me, your world and my world – and beyond that what is needless ballast?

He also provides a fascinating Philosophy of Painting on his website – at least I will know if it is truly fascinating after I learn German or hire my niece as a translator.

Where do my own symbols and associations take me?  What cognitive connections does the triptych evoke?

  • Red – passion, violence, heat, light, intensity, excitement, danger and attraction, approach and avoidance, life blood and death, celebration, impossible to ignore.  I do love red in all its shades, but tending from true red to yellow or brown more than toward violet.  Selecting a lipstick is a sublime endeavor, an art in itself.
  • Three – Noblest of All Digits, the beginning of depth and balance, three-legged stool, tripod;  past-present-future;  family, Holy Trinity, Magi, Blind Mice, Bears, fairies in Sleeping Beauty, a crowd;  count to three, third time’s the charm, how many times I sneeze, Three Dog Night;  Hindu Trimurti and Tridevi, Three Jewels of Buddhism, Three Pure Ones of Taoism, Triple Goddess of Wicca (okay, I looked up that last set).

Christian Bahr kindly shared his thoughts about  the triptych when i asked:

It is an expressive, abstract artwork, but behind that abstraction (or let me say: reduction) I want to tell the traditional and great story of “Judith & Holofernes”. From the beginning, before I have started the painting(s), it was clear that I wanted to find my own emotional and expressive language to tell the old story of Judith and her fight. It is also a very modern story about the clash of cultures/religions, about the courage of a woman (feminism), the relation between men and women and so on. You know that all. This story contains so much different aspects. That’s why I had to use 3 canvas and not only one. Two with the same dimensions (Judith/Holofernes) and one with bigger dimensions in the center (the confrontation). I have my standpoints, but I don’t want to interpret my paintings too much. I never do that, because I think that the viewer has the right to find independently his own interpretation. My point of view.

Honestly if it is up to me?  My first impression of the triptych is to fit it to the chronology of the Judith story:  Seduction, Confrontation, Victory. Reading like a story from left to right.


Judith & Holofernes i (2014) Christian Bahr

Christian Bahr, “Judith & Holofernes I,” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm,

Seduction.  In which Judith meets Holofernes in her finest attire – intensity and excitement.  In which he considers her beauty and the opportunity to make her a personal conquest – heat and attraction.  In which they eat and drink into the night, all part of Judith’s plan – passion and danger.  So this first panel provides a pathway by which Judith descends from the dark upper left of the frame. and deliberately entices her victim with the promise of sex in the flaming lower right.


Judith & Holofernes II (2014) Christian Bahr

Christian Bahr, “Judith & Holofernes II,” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120 cm,

Confrontation.  The predominant frame of the story.  In which Judith accosts the incapacitated Holofernes with his own fauchion and severs his head from his body – violence, life blood and death.  That sweeps and swirls across the frame with force, bisecting the space from left to right, once again ending in darkness – just as Judith bisects his body.


Judith & Holofernes III (2014) Christian Bahr

Christian Bahr, “Judith & Holofernes III,” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm,

Victory.  The cautious and calm return to Bethulia.  In which Judith presents the head to the townspeople – celebration.  In which they realize the prize placed on the wall has caused the attacking army to flee – the protection of their life blood.  Judith’s triumph represented by the upward strokes that resemble her stance before the crowds with the head held high in the white center.  Increasing areas of yellow that add lightness and joy to the occasion as the red recedes in intensity and size toward the right.

But that’s just me.  There is always room for other interpretations – on your own blog.

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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Story


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Judith: Past, Present, Future

Writing a blog is so gratifying and narcissistic.  I can choose the subjects, I decide what I write, I don’t have a deadline and I can choose when to publish.  I can even re-write it after it has been published.  And best of all: I can let new artists speak for themselves.

This is the work of Daria Souvorova, who graduated from Pratt Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and currently is the Artist-in-Residence at PrattMWP and instructs at Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute.  Actually, Daria’s most insightful work so far: The Seven Deadly Sins.  Check it out!  She not only sketches and paints but also writes eloquently about her art.  So I am going to take a break, and allow her words to describe Judith and Holofernes.

I began the fall semester with a large scale drawing and painting on the theme of Judith beheading Holofernes. This composition, and the transition thereof, reflects my thinking process over the summer, and the evolution between the roles of heroes and villains in my life.

Instead of choosing the traditional moment depicting Holofernes struggling for his life, I chose to show him in the moment before he is beheaded. I drew him fluid and slumping onto the Fury’s grip. He is delirious and in denial. Smiling, in fact. He is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions and does not even understand his punishment.

Holofernes (2012) Daria Souvorova

The fluid movement between the figures in this work became important. The lighting also played a big role: Holofernes is almost completely in silhouette, which separates him from Judith who is brilliantly lit against the darkness of the wall behind her. Fury wields the sword that pierces the space. It points toward the bed and alludes to the nature of the punishment. A sliver of light follows the edge of the sword and is mirrored by the silhouette of the woman on the bed, that Holofernes was just dragged off of.

Judith 2 (2012) Daria Souvorova

Judith (2012) Daria Souvorova

Fury (2012) Daria Souvorova

The slashing of the blade became a very important movement in the composition. I wanted to emphasize it. I originally composed a three-figure grouping –  the bulk of the right panel. I added a second panel to the left to allow room for the blade. This was the first instance in which I began to reconsider the symmetrical rhythm of my compositions. The figure’s silhouette is the only light on the bulk of the left panel, and as the figure disintegrates almost entirely save for the sliver of light that mirrors the sword, the figure proves unimportant outside of its role of identifying the secondary villain.

Doorway (2012) Daria Souvorova

Returning to the Judith and Holofernes painting: I became interested in segregating the hero and villain through taking advantage of pushing some figures towards Idealization, and others towards Characterization.  I created more specificity in the gestures and features of the figures, and began to find interest in the spaces that surrounded them.  The angle of the doorway and the groupings of figures that melted away into the light began to be considered as narrative devices, as much as representations of the main characters.  I was thrilled to paint the chair and the fabric that envelops it – the violet folds of a yellow pillow became characters of their own right. I repainted the composition in halves and was delighted at the improvement of each section yet continuously dismayed as previously successful areas appeared inferior in comparison. This painting took over three months to complete and became a representation of the progress of my narratives.


Daria Souvorova (1988 – ), “Judith and Holofernes,” 2012, Oil on Linen, 46 x 68 in,


Looking at the completed Judith and Holofernes in conjunction with my drawings and the portraits I have been working on, I was surprised at the stark difference between the drawings and the painting.

Judith and Holofernes was a very black and white composition for me, created at a time when I was focused on morality and a strict intended narrative in my works. Seeing it set against the relative subtlety of the portraits made me realize the level of theatricality in the image.  At this point, I began searching for more earnestness and connection between the viewer and my images.


I am very appreciative of Daria’s own words because they address several questions (and gave me some time off).  However, I must confess:  my first interpretation of this composition was a time-lapse version of the story.  I saw Judith-before, Judith-during and Judith-after.  How interesting that perspective seems in comparison to the artist’s explanation – but still not a bad way to look at the movement across the canvas, in my humble opinion.

Just one thing that remains unexplained:  in the center of the execution, as background to the action is a painting on the wall.  It looks a lot like … curious Psyche and sleeping Cupid. At least Cupid escapes the dagger and only had to endure the wax from Psyche’s lamp – and doesn’t end up like Holofernes.

Psyche (2012) Daria Souvorova


Daria Souvorova, Cupid and Psyche, 2012, Pastel on Cotton Rag 29×22 in.,

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

With delight, I received an email from Daria with an article about one of her students, “Seven Deadly Sins” and her upcoming “Lost and Gained.”  I think I will be able to relate to Lost and Gained.  Mostly Gained.

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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Story


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Judith: A Collaboration

On March 24, 1965, Jean Giraudoux’s play “Judith; a tragedy in three acts” opened at the Phoenix Theatre, New York. The artists who contributed to this endeavor were at the height of their careers, and the production involved numerous collaborations to bring the story to life.

In visual arts, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning – pioneer couple of the Dada movement and Surrealism – brought their irrationality, nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments to set design and costuming for the production. Ernst began his career as painter-sculptor-graphic artist-poet in Germany during the 1920’s, and collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Romeo and Juliet (1926) (1).  Separately in America, Tanning’s career began the early 1940s, working on her own surreal paintings while supporting herself as a commercial artist in New York –  where she designed sets and costumes for several ballets of George Balanchine, including The Night Shadow (1945).  Ernst and Tanning met in 1942 and married four years later.

Max & Dorothea, NYC - 1947

Max & Dorothea, NYC, 1947


Joan Miró and Max Ernst, set for Romeo and Juliet, 1926


Dorothea Tanning, program cover for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1945

For the production of Judith,  Ernst designed sets while Tanning created costumes.


Max Ernst, “Judith: Les deux elements,” 1961, oil on canvasboard construction, 32.7 x 23.5 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, New York,May 2, 2012 (Lot# 374)

Judith (1961) Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Judith,” 1961, Gouache on paper 13.75 x 9.5 in,


Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Holopherne,” 1961, Gouache on paper, 16.94 x 12.88 in,

In performance art,  Judith was played by Rosemary Harris and Holofernes by Paul Sparer.   At the time, Rosemary Harris was an English actress experienced in Shakespeare and historical drama – although now most people know her as Aunt May in the Spiderman franchise.   Paul Sparer was a television actor who became known as The Narrator in Tales from the Darkside.


Rosemary Harris as “Judith” (1965)


Rosemary Harris as “Aunt May” in Spiderman (2002)

Judith (1970) Manus Presse

In 1970, the German publisher Manus Presse issued a book of the text of Judith by Jean Giraudoux, with 6 color lithographs by Max Ernst and 6 color lithographs by Dorothea Tanning.   Signed editions of the book are currently available from online book sellers for $1,800 to $ 5,000 – depending on the condition.  Not bad for an old book!  Now if i could just read German … but no worries.  It has pictures.


Jean Giraudoux, Judith, Illustrated by Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. 50pp, 12 color lithographs on Arches Paper, 43 cm x 30 cm. Stuttgart, DE: Manus Presse GmbH (1970)

(1) Valerie Lawson, Happily ever after: The Ballets Russes’ Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet website: Behind Ballet, December 5, 2011.

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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Story


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