Tag Archives: English

Judith: More to the Tale

After The Canterbury Tales discussed yesterday, William Russell Flint (1880-1969) continued to illustrate color-plate books through 1929 in an oriental style. While still technically excellent, some of the warmth and romanticism was diminished from this earlier work. This is especially evident in Judith and Tobit and Susanna. (1)

Judith (1928) was limited to 875 copies, issued by The Haymarket Press. With contents on handmade paper, it contains four lithograph illustrations by Flint. It can still be found on sale by antique booksellers.

Although these images may be considered inferior to Flint’s earlier work because they are missing the sumptuous backgrounds, in their simplicity they still capture the beauty of the female figure and the drama of Judith’s encounter with Holofernes.

Judith Adorns Herself
Judith Before Holofernes
Judith Reaches for the Scimitar
Judith Returns to Bethulia with Holofernes’ Head

I especially dig the red flip flops.

Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., “Sir William Russell Flint,” JVJ Publishing Illustators, created 1997 and updated, 2011.

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Posted by on July 8, 2020 in No category


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Judith in a Very Long Tale

Filed under “Things I Never Knew” and “How Did I Find That Out?”

  • Judith is mentioned in the one of the first greatest writings of the English language, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • And … there is a version of The Canterbury Tales that is beautifully illustrated by Sir William Russell Flint, P.R.W.S., R.A. (1880-1969)

The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) are presented as a story-telling contest within a group of travelers on a pilgrimage from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The tales are told in ten Fragments, in which tales are closely related and contain indications of presentation order, usually with one character speaking to and then stepping aside for another character. In Fragment VII, Judith appears in The Tale of Melibee – one of the longest and most boring of all the tales. In this tale, Melibee and Dame Prudence (his wife) debate how to seek retribution from an enemy who beat her and their daughter – using many proverbs and quotes from learned authorities and the Bible to make their points. Melibee makes five points and Dame Prudence rebutes –

When Dame Prudence, very debonairly and with great patience, had heard all that her husband was pleased to say, then she asked of him permission to speak, and said in this manner: 

… And truly, as to your fifth reason, where you say that in wicked advice women vanquish men, God knows, that reason has no value here. For understand now, you ask advice to do wickedness; and if you will do wickedness, and your wife restrains that wicked purpose, and overcomes you by reason and by good advice, certainly your wife ought rather to be praised than blamedJudith by her good advice delivered the city of Bethulia, in which she dwelled, out of the hands of Holofernus, who had besieged it and would have entirely destroyed it.

By the way, Dame Prudence wins the debate in the end.

Fast forward to 1913.

William Russell Flint (1880-1969), “Judith,” 1913, watercolor illustration for The Canterbury Tales, published by Medici Society Ltd., London, UK

The Medici Society published an illustrated edition of the Tales in three volumes, with thirty-six plates by William Russell Flint (1880-1969). Flint was already famous for his watercolors of the female form. “These illustrations show the appeal of stories about medieval women–an appeal which should probably be set in the context of such artistic movements as the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts movement, Aestheticism, and Art Nouveau.” (1)

Flint’s work bares a striking resemblance to the Orientalists and to the Pre-Raphaelites, who both flourished from 1850 into the early 20th century and who I have admired. And I have admitted several times to a soft spot for illustration, appealing to the romantic in me. So no surprise that I find this Judith to be enchanting, with her thick braid of hair that is complimented by her heavy gold adornments. She demurely looks away from the severed head – either distancing herself from the violence or preparing for her next move. But she stands in full view with a simple gown and shawl of resplendent color. A breath-taking depiction for one line in a very long story.

Enjoy the other thirty-five watercolors from this book at the blogspot of Pierangelo Boogeymen, The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer illustrated by W. Russell Flint.

(1) Siân Echard, Printing the Middle Ages, 2008, University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

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Posted by on July 7, 2020 in No category


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Judith monopolizes the bath

Margaret Agnes Rope (1882-1953) was a stained glass artist in the Arts and Crafts movement tradition of first four decades of the 20th century. She trained at the Birmingham Municipal School of Art until 1909 and then worked from home on the large west window of Shrewsbury Cathedral, the first of seven she did there. In 1923, she became a Carmelite nun, Sister Margaret of the Mother of God, and continued to execute stain glass. She is credited with about 60 windows, typified by strong colors, jewelled intensity and consummate glass painting skills. 

Wait … make that 61 windows …

Window in Shropshire home’s bathroom identified as valuable artwork

Judith in the bathroom

After Rosalind Garrard bought a house in Church Stretton in south Shropshire a short time ago, she decided to refurbish the bathroom, and the stained-glass panel (see pic below) that was in the window-frame was extracted.  Curious to see what would happen, she then placed the piece on the internet sales site, eBay, where, by pure chance, it was recognised by an art-history researcher.  The researcher identified it a student work by Margaret Agnes Rope.

When Ms Garrard told her story to the BBC, she admitted she was baffled as to how it came to be in her bathroom: “The previous owner could not tell me why it was there, and I can only presume it has been there in situ since it was made. Experts tell me that it is a student exercise, and was probably completed around 1908.  I understand that what I had placed on eBay for a nominal sum turns out to be a very valuable piece indeed!”

Margaret Agnes Rope (1882-1953), “Judith,” 1908, stained glass, Shrewsbury Museum, Shrewsbury, ENG

Judith arrives in town

Judith & Holofernes is probably the first full-scale stained-glass piece done by Margaret; it is life-size, dating possibly to 1908. Though created as a student piece, she would have been around 25 when she made it, and it bears the influence of her teacher, the great Henry Payne.

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Posted by on July 3, 2020 in No category


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Judith: 60 Paintings for 51

I can’t say this is one of my favorites. But then, the catalogue note explains the mood of the time and the mindset of the artist. I’ll let the note speak eloquently for itself.

Judith (1951-52) Burra

Edward Burra (1905-76), Judith and Holofernes, 1950-51, pencil and watercolor, 100.5 x 130 cm, auctioned by Sotheby’s: Modern & Post-War British Art, November 17-18, 2015, London, England

Following the Second World War, the cultural atmosphere in Britain was decidedly bleak. Somewhat cut off from the rest of the world due to travel restrictions and import limitations, rationing was in full force in Britain for much longer than it was elsewhere, fuel was in scarce supply, and the new modern products that were being manufactured in the country were being exported around the world, rather than being available for British consumers. It was within this context that the Government organised The Festival of Britain of 1951, a national exhibition designed to raise the spirits of the country and celebrate British ingenuity and creativity, as well as the country’s scientific and industrial prowess. Burra was one of the artists asked to contribute to an exhibition of paintings for the Festival entitled 60 Paintings for 51. Held at Suffolk Galleries, the show included such important pieces as Lucian Freud’s Interior Near Paddington (1951), Francis Bacon’s Painting (1950), L.S. Lowry’s Industrial Landscape: River Scene (1950), and Keith Vaughan’s Interior at Minos (1950), with William Gear winning the prize for his Autumn Landscape (1950). The artists were allowed to contribute a painting on whatever subject they should so choose, the only requirement being that the work be on a grand scale, and Burra selected the arresting and imposing Judith and Holofernes.

Given the convivial atmosphere of the Festival, Burra’s choice of subject seems an odd one, but is in many ways a testament to his nature. Always reticent to talk about his art, he rarely attended his own gallery openings, participated in the sale or promotion of his work, and was never one to veer from his own intentions, regardless of the requirements of a particular commission or show. This seems to be the case here, as it was during this period that Burra was working on a series of religious themed works which drew heavily on the paintings of the old masters, particularly those of El Greco. It was in the National Gallery that Burra would have seen many Spanish masterworks that derived from Biblical sources, and while Burra was never an overtly religious person, he found within these stories a useful framework through which he could comment on humanity. They are amongst his darkest creations and in such paintings as Christ Mocked (1950-2), The Expulsion of the Money Changers (1950-2) and Peter and the High Priest’s Servant (1950-2), we see crowds of entwined bodies relishing in the displays of public violence, devolving into demonic presences in their greed, and wielding a brutal sense of authority.

It is perhaps unsurprising that in these religious works Burra has often chosen to focus on the darker Biblical passages. Burra had long been fascinated by the macabre and the bizarre, and these elements appear continually throughout his career, from the dancing skeletons of the 1930s, all the way through to the menacing presences we find in his English landscapes of the 1950s and 60s. He drew inspiration from gothic novels which he loved, and as Jane Stevenson points out in her biography on the artist, he owned several books which focused on the existence of the occult, witchcraft and magic. The story of Judith and Holofernes, the tale of a beautiful widow who decapitates an Assyrian general recently arrived to destroy her home city, would have therefore provided ample inspiration for Burra’s fertile imagination.

While Burra has included many of the elements one often sees in the Renaissance and Baroque depictions of the story, the servant ready and waiting in the shadows to ferry away the severed head in a bag, the three main parties enclosed in darkness at the moment of dramatic climax, he has also imbued the story with his own unique vision, a mix of darkness with the comic that produces such powerful and intriguing characters. Judith has become a towering and imposing presence, her muscles bulge and her slanted eyes pierce cat like through the darkness. Burra has given us a full frontal view of the severed neck, arteries still pulsing with blood, while Holofernes’ head, grey and drained of life, still holds a snide grin. A lit torch in the background watches the scene and grimaces in horror, while music from the guitar player floats into the tent. As with so many of Burra’s best works, the drama and passion of the story is impregnated with his particular sense of the uncanny and strange, leading to a truly unforgettable rendering of such a well-known narrative.

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Posted by on April 15, 2020 in No category


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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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