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Judith looks good enough to eat

How droll. Tableware depicting a decapitated head.

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unknown from Germany or Netherlands, Fork with Judith with the head of Holofernes, ca. 1650, Steel with carved ivory and silver mounts, 20.2 cm whole, (8.3 cm ivory alone), Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

This is not a first, however.  A different fork with Judith on the handle was presented in “Judith sets the table” and they are not from a matched set.  This fork is slightly more refined than the two-prong model. From the V&A description:

Knives have been used since prehistoric times, but the history of knives, forks and spoons for eating in Europe probably commenced in the fourteenth century, and their use became accepted by the sixteenth century. Until the late seventeenth century it seems to have been common practice for people to carry their own cutlery, often in a leather case. Ebony, ivory, fish skin, tortoiseshell, amber, bone, horn and shell were all popular for decorating cutlery… Although cutlers were required by their guilds to be able to make a complete knife, handles of carved ivory, silver, bronze and glass were usually imported or made by specialist craftsmen.

A quick search of the internet for “renaissance ivory fork” yields fewer results than imagined — but did inform me that the first fork to bear an English hallmark and engraved with a coat of arms belonged to the Earl of Rutland (1632) and is displayed at the V&A (1).  So now I feel prepared to appreciate the cutlery section as I have never appreciated it before. See you at the V&A! (1) Suzanne Von Drachenfels, The Art of the Table, FoodReference.com (retrieved April 6, 2015)

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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Exploring

 

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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 www.hugo-von-habermann.de.  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, 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, http://www.artdoxa.com

 

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, http://www.artdoxa.com

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, http://www.artdoxa.com

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, http://www.artdoxa.com

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 in alabaster

Alabaster is the common name for soft, smooth, fine-grained sedimentary gypsum rock – popular because it is soft and easy to work or carve.

Alabaster has been used since the beginning of time to carve decorative items, both large and small.

Alabaster can be worked to show varying degrees of low and high relief such that “the luminous alabaster surface highlights the powerful folds of fabric and accentuates the elegant movement of the figures.” (1)  And the death-clutch of the headless body in the bed.

Oval alabaster relief

Oval alabaster relief of Judith and Holofernes, c. 1600, alabaster in a later gilt wood frame, 31 x 26.7 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, New York, January 28, 2009 (lot  #21)

 

This example of alabaster carving comes from the late 1500s to early 1600s in Germany, probably designed to adorn the interior of a residence or to exhibit in a collection.  As described by Aleksandra Lipińska in the essential text on alabaster from Northern Europe, this alabaster seems to be typical of the pieces produced in that time and place:

Old Testament stories were usually selected for their potential to be construed as allegories of secular virtues (e.g. the Judgment of Solomon as a allegory of just government) or as scenes with the potential for exploiting erotic suggestion (Lot and his daughters). Such scenes tended to be stylised in the antique fashion: scenes peopled with figures dressed in tunics and issued with Roman armour were played out against backgrounds of ancient ruins, with distant panoramas of towns featuring buildings resembling Greek temples or Italian palaces. (2, p268)

But the description in Otto Naumann’s art house catalogue uncovered something truly unique about this piece and the previous owners.

The present work once hung in the library of Clifford Ambrose Truesdell (1919-2000), a professor of Rational Mechanics at Johns Hopkins University and an influential figure in twentieth century science.  Evidently, this subject was of particular interest to Professor Truesdell and his wife, who had their own likenesses represented as Judith and Holofernes in a portrait on the opposite wall.(1)

Wow. I would love to know what Mrs. Truesdell did to convince Dr. Truesdell to assume that role – and whatever happened to that painting.  It would make a great addition to my collection.

(1) Otto Naumann Ltd.

(2)  Aleksandra Lipińska, Moving Sculptures: Southern Netherlandish alabasters from the 16th to 17th centuries in central and northern Europe. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2014.

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Postscript:  Once I found the story of the re-creation of Judith and Holofernes with the images of the owners of this alabaster,  I was fascinated.  Who WERE these people?  My investigation revealed: not just idle rich with too much time on their hands,

Clifford Ambrose Truesdell III is regarded as the founder of the modern science of rational mechanics and a leader in the study of thermodynamics.  He wrote or co-wrote 26 books, 268 papers and many book reviews, and was the winner of numerous international prizes and medals in mathematics.  In his spare time, Truedell was an ardent student of the Renaissance.  From his obituary in the Baltimore Sun (Jan 19, 2000)

Dr. Truesdell collected paintings and silver. He invited musicians and dancers to perform in his home, a granite and brick Palladian structure on a slight hill in Guilford, and often invited friends to attend candlelight musicales. For these soirees, Dr. Truesdell dressed in 18th-century attire, including a lace collar that had been made by his grandmother. His wife would be similarly attired. “They were a seamless totality and complimented each other. Their home was an ongoing work of art, and if you were there for an event, it was not easily forgotten,” said Gary Vikan, director of Walters Art Gallery.

And when I really poked around for a minute or two, I found images in the collection of The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History of Clifford and Charlotte Truesdell standing before the the study of their home “il Palazzetto.”  And in the background i swear is a Manneristic portrayal of Judith lifting the fauchion – that I would bet has the likenesses of Clifford and Charlotte.

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Clifford and Charlotte Truesdell, photographed by the former in front of his study in Il Palazzetto, 1975, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

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COULD IT GET ANY BETTER!!!   Through a series of emails with the grandson of the Truesdell’s, he produced a photo of the painting!!!!    I noted that the selection of chose Judith and Holofernes was “not the most functional interaction to depict … but must have said something about their sense of humor and vision of their own relationship.”  And I received this very kind response from Cliff:

This painting was prominently in his study/office, so he basically lived with it every day. The word above the painting is “STRUIMUS” which is latin for “we build,” which was some sort of motto for them.

I think you’re right about their vision of their relationship and I appreciate the insight. I didn’t know them very well but in the limited time I spent with them it was clear that they were two of the most connected people I’ve ever met.
Judith Truesdell detail

Dr. and Mrs. Clifford Truesdell III as Judith and Holofernes, photographed over the fireplace of his study in Il Palazzetto, Baltimore, MD – courtesy of Cliff Truesdell

 

 

Yes, I do believe this has been the most edifying and entertaining posts to write.  I hope you enjoy it as well!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Glory

 

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Judith needs a List

Wilhelm List is hard to pin down.

FIRST,  there are two infamous men with the name Wilhelm List.

  • Wilhelm List the Painter (1864-1918) was an Austrian, one of the twelve illustrators of the 1902 catalogue for the Viennese Secession dedicated to Beethoven.
  • Wilhelm List the Field Marshal (1880-1971) was a German commander of the 14th Army that invaded Poland, the 12th Army that invaded Greece and Yugoslavia, and was convicted of reprisal killing of hostages in retaliation for partisan activity during the Hostages Trial – for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

While it is possible that Wilhelm List the Field Marshal developed a talent for painting while incarcerated with time on his hands, it is more likely that this painting is the work of List the Painter.

Judith () Wilhelm List

Wilhelm List (1864–1918), “Judith und Holofernes ,” oil on cardboard, 37 x 35 cm, auctioned 27 Apr 2006 (Lot #679)

 

SECOND, the selection of Judith with a severed head as a theme is most unusual for Wilhelm List the Painter.  Most of his works of art are so  …  uplifting.  Angels and saints, mothers and babies, flowers and trees, puppies and kittens.

Comparable to Alphonse Osbert and Gustav Klimt, he revealed himself as a remarkable portraitist, as shown in ‘The Woman in black and white’, where his technique of divided colours and fine long brush strokes, with a dominance of blue, evokes the works of Edmond Aman-Jean during the same period. (1)

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Woman in Black and White

the of s

The Offering

A Night Fairy

A Night Fairy

Daylight and Twilight

Daylight and Twilight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I will let the influence of The Secessionists explain List’s selection.  You may recall I touched on the Viennese Secession when I first landed on Gustav Klimt (“Judith goes for Gold,” November 15, 2011).  Klimt formed the Vienna Secession in 1897 with a group of Austrian artists (Moser, Hoffmann, Olbrich, Kurzweil, Bernatzik, Wagner) – with the purpose to object to copying historic styles by resigning from the Association of Austrian Artists and to create a new style was no from historical influence.  The Secession was part of a larger movement in art known today as Jugendstil or Art Nouveau. Although there was no unifying style, many chose the female body as their primary subject, portrayed with traditional allegory and symbolism.

Thus among the angels and saints, Judith was a popular subject for Secessionists dues to her rebellious spirit and her use of feminine wiles to exert her power.  List depicts her in murky tones, on her knees  as if she is worshipful or expressing gratitude to Holofernes’ severed head.  It obviously does not repel her or inspire fear; instead her bowed head suggests a demeanor of respect.

So is that what it has come to? Judith saying “I know it was violent and all – not exactly what you had in mind for the evening – but thanks for giving me your head so I can scare off the rest of your army.”  Well … sure … if you were raised to be really polite and feel there is no time like the present.

Personally, I would be content to share those thoughts AFTER the head was on a spike on the city wall.

 

(1)  Julia Kerr, Wilhelm List Biography, www.artmagick.com

And if you have further interest in Wilhelm List (the Painter, not the Filed Marshal), there are several nice digital displays of his work:

Wikigallery, Wilhelm List

The Athenaeum, Wilhelm List – Artworks

Seeking Beauty, Wilhelm List (Austrian ,1864-1918) (Nov. 8th, 2014)

Terry Prest, St Elizabeth of Hungary, idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Whorey

 

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Judith brings the pain killers

Poor Holofernes.

It’s been a long day and there was so much wine.

The music was loud and the soldiers were cheering.

This woman just kept talking and talking about how great it was going to  be when he moved into her villa in Bethulia.

Except the weather here is so ridiculously hot and humid, which leaves a body feeling like a heavy wet rag.

And then the pollen count is up, which makes his sinuses swell like sheep bladders after the rain.

Oiy, what to do for this headache.

 

Judith (c. 1880) Neuhaus

Fritz Neuhaus (1852-1922), “Judith und Holofernes,” c.1880, oil on canvas, 107 x 171.5 cm, auctioned by Schloss Ahlden, December 26, 2005 (Lot #1668)

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2015 in Whorey

 

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Judith has a brand new bag

What can you do after you determine that your butt looks big?

Buy a new handbag, of course.

Judith (2008) Dagmar Calais

Dagmar Calais, “Judith and Holofernes,” 2008, Oil on canvas, 200 x 160 cm, http://www.dagmar-calais.de

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Whorey

 

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