Tag Archives: the bag

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 dries out

My advance planning for the V&A visit has revealed one disturbing fact: there is A LOT of Judith in storage.  Not that I am feeling persecuted (there is probably a LOT of David in storage as well) but just disappointed that the museum visit will not be All Judith All The Time.  So for the remaining posts about the V&A, they will have to be about works of art I will not see, at least on this visit.  And there ends my narcissistic rant … for the moment.

But I will especially miss this painting, the one I wrote about unkindly in “Judith is put to bed wet” (October 18, 2011).

Matteo Ponzoni, "Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes," c.1650, oil on canvas, 90.3 x 79.4 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

Matteo Ponzoni, “Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes,” c.1650, oil on canvas, 90.3 x 79.4 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

It is possible that seeing this painting in the flesh would incline me to be more kind about the depiction of Judith — but I would not bet on that.  Judith’s slack jawed expression would not change, nor the beefy appearance of her forearm and the uncomfortable compression of her breasts.  Perhaps she would not appear to be bathed in perspiration and maybe the details of her gown and toilet would be more pronounced.  Perhaps.  But now I will never know.

Maybe that’s why she is in storage.

See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith and the tassels

Judith (1608) Linen embroidery:Leinenstickerei

Unknown artist, Linen embroidery, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1608, Half-linen, linen, silk, gold and silver threads, 60 x 71 cm, Swiss National Museum, Zürich, CH


It is definitely embroidery, but … why?

I can’t imagine wearing it as a scarf  (“Oh, How lovely that looks around your neck!”)

I can’t envision as a placement (“Just set your plate right here over the gaping stub of the neck … Don’t worry about the stains.”)

I can’t see it as a kerchief for a bedside table (“Don’t worry about a thing, dear.  Lay your spectacles on the kerchief and your scabbard by the bed, and then rest your heavy head on the pillow.  I’ll won’t leave you … “)

I suppose it’s just a … warning notice?

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Distracted


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Judith and the Bard

In medieval British culture, a bard was a professional poet, employed by a patron, such as a monarch or nobleman, to commemorate the patron’s ancestors and to praise the patron’s own activities.  From frequent use in Romanticism, ‘The Bard’ became a title to various poets – most notably across time, ‘The Bard of Avon,’ ‘The Immortal Bard’ or simply ‘The Bard’ to an anglophile is William Shakespeare.

The town of Stratford-upon-Avon has been virtually stopped in time to honor England’s most famous poet and playwright.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) is the oldest conservation society in Britain and considered the most significant Shakespeare charity in the world.  The mission of SBT is to promote the appreciation and study of William Shakespeare’s works, and to advance of Shakespearian knowledge by maintaining and preserving the Shakespeare Birthplace properties, a museum, library of books, manuscripts, records of historic interest, pictures, photographs and objects of antiquity associated with the life and times of William Shakespeare.  In fulfillment of that mission, SBT acquired this panel painting in 2014 as a representation of popular art during Shakespeare’s time.



Unknown artist, “Judith beheading Holofernes,” c. 1575, oil on panel, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK


The story of Judith and Holofernes was well known in Shakespeare’s day and it was a popular subject for painters in the 16th and 17th centuries. This panel was painted by an unknown Northern European artist and has been dated to about 1575… It is interesting to wonder whether there is a connection between the Biblical character of Judith and the name chosen by Shakespeare for his second daughter. (1)

I discussed his daughter Judith way-back-when in a post – although I found no significant connection to the biblical Judith.  Just a nice name.

But the reason that posting this painting today is important is not that it was acquired a year ago. No, the importance is … seven weeks from today I will be able to view this for myself at the Shakespeare Birthplace!  So in between the plays and the pubs and the puddings, if it is on display, I can check out this Judith with my own eyes!!

Now excuse me while I go to throw salt over my shoulder and spit three times while twirling around in order not to jinx the trip.


(1) Finding Shakespeare, New Acquisition: Judith and Holofernes, posted on February 21st, 2014 by Paul Taylor


Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Gory


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Judith, meet Bacchus

There is more here than meets the eye. More pursuit of freedom and ecstasy.

Judith () Alexis Grimou

Alexis Grimou (1678-1733), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm, Museum of King John III’s Palace at Wilanów, Warsaw, PL


This is a Judith by Alexis Grimou, a French painter who taught himself to paint by copying works of Van Dyck and Rembrandt.  According the to font of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “He painted mainly spirited portraits or portrait scenes, such as women singing and playing musical instruments. He was admitted to the Academy of Paris in 1705, but resigned complaining about the mediocrity of his peers.”  I imagine that observation made him a less-than-popular-guy.  Actually the French Wikipedia says “but his conduct, together with the insolence did off the list in 1709.”  Yes, a slightly different story.  It seems the truth is somewhere in between according to another source: “Although instructed by the Académie to paint as his morceaux de réception portraits of the sculptor Jean Raon (1630-1707) and the painter Antoine Coypel, he failed to present either picture and in 1709 the agrément was annulled.”

But he seems to have enjoyed himself in the ensuing years, as revealed in his self-portraits.  His style is described as “earthy” and harkens back to the Dutch Golden Age for portraits that defied the ascendent French classicism of the Academy.  Amidst this freedom of style, it is curious that he would have selected Judith as a theme – so it is likely this is a commissioned portrait in which the client selected Judith as a historical character to portray.  However, she looks a little uncomfortable with her role – too bad she did not join in the drinking.


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Toper,” Oil on canvas. 101 x 81 cm, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusettes, USA


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Toper,” Oil on canvas. 116.5 x 89.5 cm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


Alexis Grimou (1680-1733), “Bacchus Self-Portrait,” 1728, Oil on canvas, 101 × 81 cm, Musée Magnin, Dijon, FR




Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Cacciatore


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Judith hangs with Jael

Serial posting.  Why didn’t I think of that before?

Yesterday began with trying to unravel the mystery of an unidentified tapestry.  Which led to the history and geography of tapestries.  Which led to the connection to four other tapestries with Judith as the subject. Which today leads to the south of France … but not the sandy, sunny south.  The mountainous, snowy south.

In the heart of the Pays d’Asse is the ancient city of Senez, located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.  The present Romanesque church dates 1176 but was nearly destroyed in the French Wars of Religion (1562–98).  It was rebuilt in 1750, to add an episcopal palace next to the cathedral – and after completion of the restoration Monseigneur de Ruffo Bonneval (bishop of Senez 1783-1784) presented eight tapestries in celebration.  All but one were Aubusson tapestries in wool and silk,  representing different biblical scenes from the Old Testament – among them Judith holding a sword in one hand (the head of Holofernes in the other) and Jael a hammer in hand.  What a pair!


Unknown artist, “Judith holding the head of Holofernes.” Aubusson tapestry: Wool, Silk; Tapestry Weave, Cathedral of Senez, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, FR



Unknown artist, “Jael holding a hammer.” Aubusson tapestry: Wool, Silk; Tapestry Weave, Cathedral of Senez, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, FR



… which leads me to wonder:  how many grooms had second thoughts about their weddings when they stood before these wall hangings in the cathedral?


(1) L’inventaire Général du Patrimoine Culturel, Les objets mobiliers  – les tentures: Les tapisseries des Flandres 


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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Distracted


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Judith unravels

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned.

This lovely tapestry was supposed to be in the collection of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France – but it is not there.  I am almost 100% sure it is not there because the France Ministry of Culture is meticulous about cataloging every work of art in collections of public and private museums of France in a central online database, Joconde – and this tapestry is not listed.

Judith (1600s) Flemish tapestry?

Unknown, “Judith holding the head of Holophernes,” 17th century, Flemish tapestry, ???; photo by Herve Lewandowski

Here are the pieces of the puzzle with which I have to work:

  • a tapestry
  • of Judith
  • in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille OR in Lille OR in France
  • in a French museum thus in the online collection of Joconde
  • in a museum that is not in France
  • photographed by Herve Lewandowski

And thus far – it’s all a dead end.  Unless I get up the nerve to contact the photographer.

If I can not locate the tapestry, at least I can figure out the style and possible date, perhaps? To satisfy my insatiable curiosity?  The pieces of the puzzle with which I have to work on that task:

  • columns laden with fruit and tulips
  • center title in the upper border “Fortitudo Judith” – and then something I can’t read which is probably the name of the artist.

A little about the history of tapestries:

One of the most expensive and time-consuming crafts, tapestry-making only truly flourished in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, at the hands of French and (later) Flemish weavers. This growth of tapestry art coincided with the era of Romanesque and Gothic art – both part of a religious revival, when architecture, sculpture and stained glass were also harnessed by the Church to illustrate Biblical stories to illiterate congregations.

The finest European tapestries are considered to have been made by the Gobelins Royal Factory in Paris, while major tapestry-making centres existed at ArrasTournaiBrusselsAubussonFellitin and in the Beauvais factory in Paris. (1)

Arras had been the center of activity, but after it was plundered by Louis XI in 1447,  tapestry makers fled to Flanders and created a new center of European woven textiles.  That would include the city of Lille, which identifies itself as “Flemish” in the geographical and historical sense.  The style of tapestries in Flanders went from “mille flour” in the 15th century to significant improvements in perspective and composition with a wide range of colors and highly ornate borders in the 16th century. The Flemish painter Bernard van Orley (1492-1541) was most well-known for combining late Gothic realism and Renaissance idealism with the art of the tapestry medium.

But this Judith does not resemble the borders created by Orley. Making comparisons across various tapestry designs, the fruity column design appears to  be the brain-child of either Michiel Coxie (1499–1592), Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678), or Justus van Egmont (1601–1674).  All three men were primarily painters, who moved to Brussels and designed various tapestries in their spare time.  Wait a minute … that sickly pink color reminds me of Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) from Judith in Jeopardy.  So at least I am in the right time period.  And that will have to be enough … for now.

In the meantime, I did locate four other tapestries with Judith as the subject!!  Stay tuned tomorrow …

(1) Art Encyclopedia, Tapestry Art: Belgian Tapestries.  a must-read if you need a 101 on tapestries


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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Distracted


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