Tag Archives: English

Judith the model returns

Alfred George Stevens has graced these pages twice before.  Once with a beatific portrait of Judith (“Judith is beautific“) and once with this same model shown today (“Judith the model“).  He obviously had a high opinion of the heroine.


Judith (1862) Stevens

Alfred George Stevens, Model of “Judith” for the Dome of St Paul’s, c.1862, Bronze, 42.5 x 22.5 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK


I still cannot find any confirmation that Judith ever made it to the dome of St. Paul’s, so I am assuming she did not.  And then to be stuck back in storage … how sad. The V&A also owns the 24 cm plaster cast sketch model, also in storage.  But hey! At least she gets remembered here.

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith weaves another tale

This looks familiar.  Oh wait … August 10, 2012.  “Judith weaves a tale”  — I already wrote this.



unknown, “Sheldon tapestry: Judith with the head of Holofernes,” 1600-1610, silk and wool on wool warp, 48 x 48 cms, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK


Except for one problem:  IT IS IN STORAGE.

So see you at the V&A – in the storage room!

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith and the Gothic Romance

Not too long ago I wrote a post on “Judith and the Nine Worthies” which discussed characters selected in the Middle Ages to personify chivalrous ideals and whose symbols became the basis for heraldic imagery.  Although most prevalent in France, Italy and Germany, the concept of the Nine Worthies also made its way to England and into the psyche of Horace Walpole (1717-1797) — son of prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, and imminent scholar, art historian, antiquarian and Whig politician.   Walpole’s major cultural influence was the initiation of Gothic Romanticism in the late 18th century with two contributions: the medieval horror tale The Castle of Otranto (1765) — which became the first Gothic romance — and his villa Strawberry Hill — which was the first application of Gothic elements to domestic architecture. His legacy also includes his name on the Walpole Society, formed in 1911 to promote the study of the history of British art.


Horace Walpole, et al., The Walpole Cabinet, 1743, Padouk veneered onto a pine carcase and set with carved ivory plaques, figures and mounts, 152.4 x 91.5 x 21.6 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

But before he became the Gothic trend-setter, Walpole made the traditional Grand Tour of Continental Europe and upon his return decided he needed a place to display his “souvenirs.”  According to the description by the V&A:

The cabinet was commissioned by Horace Walpole on his return from the Grand Tour to incorporate a series of ivory plaques representing classical authors or derived from antique gems … J.F. Verskovis, a Flemish sculptor, supplied the ivory statuettes and also carved the ivory eagle heads and the adjacent festoons of fruit and flowers in padouk wood… The doors are decorated with various relefs, including one illustrating Judith and the head of Holofernes, and other busts and figures.

Through both its contents and its external imagery, the cabinet was used in this context as a statement about English art and aesthetic ideals. The English miniatures inside were presented as the equal of the works of ancient art reproduced in ivory on the outside.

Yes, there she is prominently centered on the face of the right-hand door. And how edifying to know that Walpole chose Judith specifically to occupy that space, designed as a testament to the history of art.  Perhaps her macabre tale was the likely link to Walpole’s combination of romance and terror that became Gothic fiction? Of course, <cough> I knew she belonged first and center all along.

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith is in stitches

Judith (1600's mid) Band sampler - full

Unknown, Band sampler, mid 1600s, Linen plain weave embroidered with linen, silk, and metallic thread, 65 x 18.1 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA



In country estate, sometime around the English Civil War –

Grandmother:  Oh darling, what a lovely sampler you have made!  How long did it take you to do this?

Granddaughter:  Only 6 years. Every day. All day.

Grandmother:  And tell me about the stitches.

Granddaughter:  Well there’s chain stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, cross stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, whipstitching, pea stitch …

Grandmother: Thrilling that you learned so much. And …

Granddaughter: … single Brussels, Corded single Brussels, whipped single Brussels, Double Brussels, Treble Brussels, …

Grandmother: Yes dear but …

Granddaughter: … buttonhole, twisted buttonhole, whipped twisted buttonhole, corded twisted buttonhole. knotted buttonhole, knotted single buttonhole, knotted double buttonhole …

Grandmother:  Oh my, I never expected …

Granddaughter: … plain twisted bar, double twisted bar, buttonholed bars. 

Grandmother:  [waiting]  Are you quite finished?  You’re sure you didn’t miss one?

Granddaughter: Pretty sure.

Grandmother:  Then tell me about the top bar.  Isn’t that Judith and Holofernes?

Granddaughter: No actually, that’s my fiancé. After waiting to marry me for six years, when I showed him the “almost” finished product I planned to display prominently in our new home, he said he did not care for it and planned to give it to his mistress as a parting gift. So I looked her up and we decided he was not worth the fuss. Amazing what one can accomplish with embroidery shears, isn’t it?


Judith (1600s mid) Band sampler - detail

Unknown, Band sampler detail of Judith and Holofernes, mid 1600s, Linen plain weave embroidered with linen, silk, and metallic thread, 65 x 18.1 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA


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Posted by on January 31, 2015 in Cacciatore


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Judith and the Occult, Part 1

This is going to take a minute to explain.  Feel free to pull up a chair.

On November 20, 2011, I wrote a post about “Judith as the Queen of Hearts” that discussed the history of modern playing cards – culminating in historical and mythological characters depicted as European royalty in court cards for four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades).  In these playing cards, Judith was the basis for the concept of the Queen of Hearts.

English playing card of Rouen designQueen_of_Hearts_by_toshizohijikataplaying-card-queens







But before the playing cards we know today, there were tarot cards.  Tarot cards were playing cards throughout much of Europe – although not in English-speaking countries in which they were primarily used for the occult practice of divination (or fortune telling).  Tarot decks were/are composed of twenty-two Major Arcana cards and Minor Arcana cards that roughly correspond to the four suits in current playing cards: cups = hearts, pentacles/coins = diamonds, wands/clubs = clubs, swords = spades.  Each Minor Arcana suit has four court cards (king, queen, knight and knave) plus cards one through ten.  Insight into the past, current and future situations is acquired by cartomancy, or posing a question to the cards and relying on associations to understand the messages.  These associations were outlined in books by occultists Etteilla (aka Jean-Baptiste Alliette) in in 1770 and Court de Gébelin (aka Antoine Court) in 1781 – supposedly based on an ancient book of arcane wisdom from the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge, Thoth.


Still with me?

While there have been many versions of tarot decks over the years to dispense this ancient wisdom and many depictions of the characters, the Italian Giovanni Vachetta created a deck in 1893 in which the Queen of Swords was depicted as Judith (1).  Although she is not named, there can be little doubt that this card is an illustration of Judith leaving the enemy camp with a sword in one hand and holding a lumpy bag in the other. Oh, and leaving a headless body behind.

Judith (1893) Giovanni Vacchetta

Giovanni Vacchetta, “Queen of Swords,” 1893, tarot card


It’s getting deeper.

Finally we come to the Thoth Tarot, a deck of Tarot cards designed by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and co-designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962). Describing Crowley is a task too large of this blogger, so I will give you the simplified version: he was an occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, mountaineer, and self-described spy who founded the religion and philosophy of Thelema and identified himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century.  In 1937 and short of funds, Crowley decided to write another book in his series The Equinox, called The Book of Thoth : A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians and enlisted Harris as the artist for the accompanying tarot deck. The book was printed as a limited edition of 200 in 1944, but neither Crowley nor Harris lived to see the deck itself printed in 1969. (2)

The symbolism of the Thoth Tarot differs from the more popular and familiar Rider-Waite deck, instead drawing from Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese and astrological esoteric schools of thought.   Harris’s illustrations are uniformly stark and vivid throughout.  Her depiction of the Queen of Swords is not obviously Judith but does seem to draw on the archetype of the decapitating female.

Judith (1944) Marguerite Frieda Harris

Marguerite Frieda Harris (1877-1962), “Queen of Swords,” 1944, ink on card stock, 9.5 cm x 14 cm, Thoth Tarot Cards, Distributed by Samuel Weiser, 734 Broadway, N.Y. 10003


While I feel qualified to talk about Judith for days (obviously), I need some assistance to understand the layered symbolism of this card. So I defer to Lon Milo Duquette’s analysis of the cloud and the severed head (3):

One look at this lady tells us she means business. Water of air is suggestive of clouds that promise either life-giving rain or the threat of a torrential cloudburst. She holds the severed head of a bearded man in her left hand and the sword that probably did the job in her right. One may think this grisly touch is just another gruesome Crowleyism. It is not. This image is the classic Golden Dawn description of the Queen of Swords, and makes a fundamental Qabalistic statement.

The suit of swords represents Yetzirah, the formative world – the mind’s eye of deity. Sword’s and Yetzirah’s counterpart in the human soul is the Ruach, the intellect, which is centered in the brain – the human head. Using the sward of discretion and reason, the Queen has separated the higher faculties of the intellect from the influences of the lower nature (the Nephesh, the animal soul). She is quite literally, Crowley points out, the “Liberator of the Mind” …

The influence of Virgo moving into Libra gives the Queen of Swords the practicality and grace of a great monarch. This native “should be intensely perceptive, a keen observer, a subtle interpreter, an intense individualist, swift and accurate at recording ideas; in action confident, in spirit gracious and just. Her movements will be graceful, and her ability in dancing and balancing exceptional.” If ill-dignified, she can be as cruel and dangerous as she looks.

But what Duquette does not tackle the symbol  “she wears, as a crest, a winged child’s head.”  For an explanation of that, I went directly to the source, Temple of Thelema (4)

Hers is not the way of the finished product. The child she nurtures is a work in progress. Hers is not the practical management of completed affairs but, rather, the on-going brainstorming of creative solution.

Oh NOW I GET IT!!  Judith was an incessant blogger with her head in the clouds and a liberated mind.  And that explains why I spent an entire day writing this post while the dust piled up and my family starved.  It was already in the cards.

_ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _ _ _  _

(1) Lee A. Bursten, “Tarot of the Master by Giovanni Vacchetta”, newsletter, January 2003.


(3) Lon Milo Duquette, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books (November 1, 2003)

(4) James A. Eshelman, Liber Theta: Tarot Symbolism & Divination,

Special thanks to for sharing the lovely image from the Thoth deck.

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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Cacciatore


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Judith gets dolled up

Not the first time we have seen decapitated toys in the place of Holofernes.

Judith (2012) Danny Lyon

Danny Lyon, THE DOLL SERIES: Judith and Holofernes set, 2012, Mixed media installation,

But in this case the dolls are standing-in for live models, from which the artist creates charcoal drawings.

To maintain his commitment to working from life, Danny has used Barbie dolls and Action men to act as life models. For the recreation of Caravaggio’s biblical painting ‘The Entombment’, Danny constructed an installation in which he has composed and dressed the dolls to fit the characters in the painting. Danny has constructed a blacked out box reminiscent of a theatre set to house the figures, then recreated the correct lighting. This echoes the chiaroscuro style of the Baroque as pioneered by Caravaggio.  From this installation Danny has created a 5ft by 4ft charcoal drawing. It is a sort of homage and a pastiche perhaps? (1)

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this installation of Judith ever made it the a drawing.  And so we settle for the plastic legs and polyester hair, the articulated limbs and the catsup-covered neck stub – all set in dramatic lighting, waiting for the next incarnation.

You would think that at least Judith would push down her petticoat while she was waiting.

(1) About Danny Lyon 

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Posted by on June 14, 2013 in Cacciatore


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Judith caught in the middle

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Rogers Herbert, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1863, Oil on canvas,             107.3 x 76.2 cm, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England, UK

In the middle of an upheaval in art history, that is.  Let me see if i can keep this straight:

  • Academic art began in the Renaissance with the collection of the most eminent artists at royal courts, who supervised the artistic production of the state.  
  • This begot the influence of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts in the 19th century, which included the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism.
  • This begot The Nazarenes, inspired by artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, with the objective to return to spiritual values in art and to reject the superficiality of Neoclassicism and Romanticism.
  • However, the initial movement did not thrive or endure due to questionable composition, coloring and themes.  Also, some Nazarenes in other parts of Europe affected a biblical lifestyle of semi-monastic existence, clothing and hair style that was probably unattractive to more hoity-toity artists.
  • This directly begot The Pre-Raphaelites, who adopted “honest expression” in art and looked to artists before Raphael for inspiration – based on the philosophy of the Nazarenes.

John Rogers Herbert started as an academic painter, then moved to the Nazarene style and influenced the Pre-Raphaelistes.  His conversion to Catholicism about 1840 was a defining point in his career when his art became more personal, merging work and religion.  Herbert’s career-changing commission was a share in the decoration of the new Palace of Westminster – based on his friendship with A.W. Pugin, the co-architect and a proponent of medieval revival.  Over 13 years, Herbert created the fresco Lear Disinheriting Cordelia (1848) for the Poet’s Hall and nine frescos for the Moses Room (named for his large fresco of Moses Bringing Down the Tables of the Law). (1)

This Judith was painted during this period and hardly appears to be revolutionary.  Unless you compare to it to predecessors Etty and Vernet or contemporaries Le Clair and Regnault – who are sensual and impulsive and murderous.   This Judith is like Sandys‘ depiction – sad, ambivalent, hesitant and fully clothed.  She is actually thinking about what she must do without seeming self-righteous.  And while these paintings may not have changed the world, they do perpetuate the importance of Judith and restore her spirituality – if not her clothes.

So here she is – between the Academics and new art perspective, between action and indecision, between darkness and light.  We already know which way she goes but it never hurts to remember what it is like at that moment of decision when you are in between.


(1) Nancy Langham, John Rogers Herbert, R.A. (viewed Mar 17, 2013)

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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Cacciatore


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