Tag Archives: Renaissance

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 has it covered

Yes, they are still in storage. And yes, the photos are black-and-white which means it is difficult to achieve a good perspective of the artistry.  And yes, we are talking about tableclothes.

While it could be easy to dismiss a tablecloth as mundane, it is actually a remarkable artifact when you consider:

  • any textile is subject to deterioration
  • these textiles is about 400 to 500 years old
  • they survived a time when dining was a free-for-all and the purpose of the tablecloth was to wipe greasy food from hands
  • and therefore they survived numerous rounds of primitive washing — at least, I hope they were washed

unknown from Flanders, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 16th century, linen damask, 111 x 107.5 in with 13.5 in repeat, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


unknown from Netherlands, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 1600-1699, linen damask, 43.5 x 35.5 in, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


For those who were not raised by Southern Belles, damask is a reversible figured fabric with a pattern formed by weaving with one warp yarn and one weft yarn, usually with the pattern in warp-faced satin weave and the ground in weft-faced or sateen weave. The traditional damask that most people envision today is a stylized symmetric design of florals, leaves and scrolls.  But in the 1600s, when weavers in Belgium and the Netherlands began making fine-quality white linen tablecloths and napkins, damask featured patterns as well as intricate scenes of famous battles or stories from the Bible.

The first tablecloth, as described by the V&A:

From the top: Holofernes is seated at a table with Judith beneath a tent of draped curtains, with hanging lamps and birds within, and on the roof of the tent is inscribed ‘OLIFERNIS’; Within another tent, Holofernes lies headless in an elaborate bed, while Judith with sword in her hand places his head in a bag held by her servant, and below her feet is the inscription ‘IUDIT’; Holofernes’ head is displayed between flags bearing the letter ‘D’ [possibly to be B] on the battlements of a town, and in front of the town, men are fighting and a bearded man in armour is chained to a tree.

So for this dining scenario, it would have been common to place your Judith handled fork next to your Judith maiolica plate atop your Judith tablecloth to enjoy a sumptuous meal.  Kinda like if you went to a “Gone Girl” themed occasion with all the matching partyware.  Bon appetite!


See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith makes a cameo

Deflate and inflate. Ascend and descend.  And today … intaglio and cameo.

Yesterday was about carving into a hard surface to create an image, today is about carving out of a hard surface with a flat plane where two contrasting colors meet.  In contrast to the intaglio, the cameo is created by removing all the first colour except for the image, leaving a contrasting background.  So the latter is much more difficult to produce than digging into the stone because it requires visualizing the image before it appears..

During the Renaissance, cameos were “hard stone” — made from semi-precious gemstones with contrasting color bands such as onyx and agate. But also during the 15th and 16th centuries, shell came into prevalent use for cameo carving as access to mussel, cowry, and tropical mollusk increased with exploration and travel.   These Renaissance cameos are typically white on a grayish background.


unknown French, “Judith” cameo, ca. 1530-1550, Shell with isinglass (fish glue) backing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

This cameo of Judith represents that typical style.  And in this tiny space — less than 5 cm — the artist has perfectly captured Judith’s glee with the completion of her task. Hips forward, shoulders back, severed head held high with a smile on her face.  It is easy to see how she is pleased with herself, right down the the frilly trim on her flimsy gown.

I can almost hear her chortle “Tee Hee! Look at me!”

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith Intaglio

Yin and yang.  Convex and concave. Stalagmite and stalagtite. And today … cameo and intaglio.

In the carving of gemstones, cameo means carving a raised image or relief while carving in intaglio means engraving into the surface of the stone. The art of gemstone carving was known in ancient Greece and Rome and revived in Renaissance Italy.  During that revival, connoisseurs formed vast collections of engraved semi-precious gemstones, especially various types of onyx and agate.


Unknown artist, “Judith with the head of Holofernes,” ca. 1500, Intaglio banded agate, 4.3 x 3.3 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

This appears to be a very small intaglio carving of Judith holding Holofernes’ head.  For some reason, it reminds me of pogs — which then makes me wonder why I remember pogs AT ALL!  Which then reminds me that fads have been around since the beginning of time, that artifacts of our passing fancies still remain — and that someday I may be looking at a pog in the museum case.

It has probably already happened somewhere.

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith dishes it out

As long as we are talking about maiolica, there’s more!


Workshop in Faenza IT, Dish depicting Judith with the head of Holofernes, ca. 1535, Tin-glazed earthenware, 26 cm diameter, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


At roughly the same time the maiolica plate discussed in the previous post was being produced north of Florence, this dish was being manufactured 62 mi NE in Faenza.  From the early fifteenth century forward, the high standards of the maiolica produced by this town resulted in its name being given to faience as the techniques moved northward into France, Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia..  Although prior motifs were heraldic lions and Tuscan oak leaves, in the early 16th century the istoriato style of decoration  became popular at Faenza, with paintings of history painting and scenes from the Bible, mythology, and legend covering the ceramics..

This particular dish is somewhat unusual in that the story of Judith is confined to the small center of the well.  So imagine the surprise of the dinner guests when the last bit of salad is served to reveal the depiction of Holofernes’ decapitation.  Saving room for dessert, everyone?

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 3, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith takes a holiday

Or I could say “Judith took a holiday.”  And actually both are true.  I took a holiday from the blog (well … to be honest, the material ran out) and I am going to take a holiday.  In preparation for this holiday, I have been reviewing the location of several Judith’s and have hopes of continuing my visits — a finally shook out some unexamined artwork about our heroine.  I always wonder how I missed it in the first place.

Keep in mind: the primary purpose of this trip is not viewing Judith’s but I may be able to sneak some in. The primary site where I can hunt Judith  is London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  What a treasure trove!

So for the next few days, I will share the works I will be tracking, in hopes I can memorize their traits and incorporate their unique characteristics so that I will recognize them in an instant — because that may be all the time I have,

First, I will start with a piece I have discussed before in “Judith the Equestrian” which features the only known signed maiolica by the talented painter Jacopo (di Cafaggiolo).

Judith (1510 c) Jacopo

Jacopo (di Cafaggiolo), “Judith with the head of Holofernes,” c. 1510, earthenware with tin glaze (maiolica), 32.5 cm diameter, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


Maiolica is the white-glazed pottery of the Italian Renaissance, adapted to all ceramic objects, such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes.  It is also known as “earthenware with tin glaze” because maiolica is distinguished by a white, opaque glaze containing tin-oxide — which now leads to the chemistry part of this art history lesson.  When I hear “tin” I think cheap and thin and noisy, like a tin roof.  But then I am a philistine.  In the actuality of the Renaissance, tin was an expensive imported substance, making maiolica a more expensive commodity than ordinary pottery. And perhaps explains why these pieces received enough care to have survived five centuries.

The process of making maiolica was learned from Islamic Spain that advanced both technically and aesthetically in the 16th century.  The name is thought to come from the medieval Italian word for Majorca, an island on the route for ships bringing Hispano-Moresque wares from Valencia to Italy.  Florence was the original center of maiolica production, but experienced potters were set up in 1495 at the Medici’s at Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo north of the city.  Records indicate the Manica Lunga, the “long wing” was used for the manufacture of maiolica and the 1498 inventory notes that the fornaze col portico da cuocere vaselle (“kilns for baking pottery”) in the piazza murata (walled enclosure) were let to Piero and Stefano di Filippo da Montelupo, the “kilnmasters” of the workshop.

A maiolica workshop usually employed about eight workers, under the leadership of a master potter who most often owned the workshop.  Each worker had a special task — gathering fuel, preparing and firing the kilns, preparing the raw clay, throwing or molding it into shapes, mixing and applying the glaze, and decorating it with ceramic pigments.  The process of painting was difficult, requiring great control by the painter since the surface in its pre-fired condition readily absorbed the colors. Maiolica from Cafaggiolo dishes known for the istoriato style, which depicted a biblical, historical, or mythological scene that covers the entire piece.

And so I imagine Jacopo working for the the Medici’s under Piero and Stefano — an accomplished painter who designed his wares to satisfy the powerful visions and artistic patronage of the Medici family, depicting a female member as victorious … and her little dog, too!

See you at the V&A!


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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith and the Empty Basin

Judith (1530-40) Ewer Basin, Deruta, Italy

Unknown artist, Molded Ewer Basin with Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes, c. 1530-40, earthenware with tin glaze (maiolica), 3.3 x 39.1 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia, US

From the Philadelphia Museum of Art description:

An embossed metal basin probably inspired this design, of which only six examples are known, each with a different central image. In Florence and elsewhere, the biblical heroine Judith sometimes represented civic victory over a powerful foe; however, her depiction as a nude figure is unusual, as is the superior quality of the painting.

They make it sound like they rarely saw a nude Judith or a Judith that was skillfully painted.  Obviously never read this blog.

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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Cacciatore


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