Judith Slaying Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi, Naples)
Judith Slaying Holofernes is a painting by the Italian early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi completed in 1610 and now in the National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy. The work shows the scene of Judith beheading Holofernes, common in art since the early Renaissance, as part of the group of subjects art critics have called the "Power of Women", which show women triumphing over powerful men. The subject takes an episode from the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament, which recounts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by the Israelite heroine Judith. The painting shows the moment when Judith, helped by her maidservant, beheads the general after he has fallen asleep drunk.
|Judith Slaying Holofernes|
|Medium||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||158.8 cm × 125.5 cm ((6' 6" X 5' 4") 78.33 in × 64.13 in)|
|Location||National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy, Florence|
Judith Slaying Holofernes is one of Artemisia Gentileschis’ most famous works. Gentileschi made a second version of this painting after moving to Florence. There is no information as of yet on the patron of this artwork. The location of Gentileschi's Capodimonte copy is not known until it was documented in the Signora Saveria de Simone collection in Naples in 1827. Artemisia was born to painter Orazio Gentileschi in 1593 and received much of her training from him. Artemisia Gentileschi was roughly seventeen years of age when she painted Judith Slaying Holofernes. Prior to this artwork Gentileschi had also completed Susanna and the Elders and Madonna and Child. These artworks show how Gentileschi used body movement and facial expressions to express emotions. Judith Slaying Holofernes was completed in 1610, which is around the time that artist Agostino Tassi was working with Orazio Gentileschi. Because of this fact, it is not true that Judith Slaying Holofernes was completed right after Gentileschi’s rape trial. Gentileschi painted another painting, Judith and her Maidservant (1613–14), which shows Judith holding a dagger while her maidservant carries a basket containing a severed head. Judith and her Maidservant is displayed in the Palazzo Pitti, in Florence. A further three paintings by Gentileschi, in Naples, Detroit and Cannes, show her maid covering the head of Holofernes, while Judith herself looks out the frame of the picture. Gentileschi's father, Orazio Gentileschi, was also a famous painter; he was also very much influenced by Caravaggio's style and painted his own version of the tale, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes.
The episode of Judith beheading Holofernes is from a deuterocanoncical book of the Bible. The episode is from the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament, which recounts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by the Israelite heroine Judith. Gentileschi draws upon the most climatic part of the Book of Judith were the beheading takes place.
Judith Slaying Holofernes has been considered to be related to the Power of Woman theme. Historian Susan L. Smith defines the "power of woman" as “the representational practice of bringing together at least two, but usually more, well-known figures from the Bible, ancient history or romance to exemplify a cluster of interrelated themes that include the wiles of woman, the power of love and the trials of marriage. Gentileschi plays into the “wiles of woman” in her painting by literally portraying Judith at the man point of her domination of over a man. Judith is shown as a beautiful woman which enticed Holofernes and also as a fierce heroine.
The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they perform the act. The effort of the women's struggle is most finely represented by the delicate face of the maid, who is younger than in most paintings, which is grasped by the oversized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive.Judith Slaying Holofernes utilizes deeper primary colors in comparison to its Florentine copy. Judith is shown wearing a cobalt blue dress with gold accents and her lady in waiting wears a red gown. Both woman have their sleeves rolled up. Since Artemisia Gentileschi was a devout follower of Caravaggio she employs tenebrism in this painting. The light shines directly on the scene of Judith beheading Holofernes.
Depictions of JudithEdit
Many different artists have portrayed the biblical heroine Judith. Because of the popularity of seeing a woman overpower a man in Baroque art, Judith became a popular biblical subject for artists to draw. Artists made different stylistic choices when depicting Judith depending on the trends of the time period.
The Renaissance had a long standing history of portraying Judith. Many artists believed that the heroine Judith held many different qualities like chastity and humility. Lucas Cranach the Elder painted a very straightforward version of Judith now known as Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Cranach's Judith is shown with a resolved look on face as she holds a sword in her hand. She wears an ornate green dress and the viewer can only see up to her mid-thigh region. Her body is cut off due to a marble ledge were the head of Holofernes sits. There is no gushing blood and Judith seems to have made a clean cut through Holofernes head. The phlegmatic look on Judith's face reverberate the intensity of her beheading. Gentileschi captures the emotions of Judith’s face but maintains more medical accuracy with the blood that is spilling down the bed. Genitleschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes shows Judith in the act of beheading rather than showing her with the head of Holofernes as Cranach did. Donatello also contributed his own interpretation with his sculpture known as Judith and Holofernes. In this sculpture, Judith is seen towering over Holofernes with a sword over her head. Holofernes body slumps over and his head is still attached to his body. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes sought to symbolize the theme of pride in both Holofernes and offer as a cautionary tale to the Medici family. Writer Roger J. Crum notes that “Judith's gesture, pulling back the general's head, rendures sure her next blow, it also makes the neck all the more visible. Behold the neck of pride," commanded the inscription, and Donatello's treatment facilitated compliance”. Unlike Donatello’s sculpture, Gentileschi shows Judith triumphing over Holofernes in the climatic moment of the beheading. Gentileschi also choose to show Judith without a head covering and includes Judith’s maidservant.
Judith beheading Holofernes was a very popular story amongst Baroque artists. Artemisia Gentileschi's contemporary Johann Liss stayed abreast with the Baroque style by including macabre imagery in his painting, Judith in the Tent of Holofernes. The painting shows the headless body of Holofernes slumping over. Judith sweeps Holofernes's head into a basket showing a look of swiftness about her. The viewer can see the maidservant's head in the background while the rest of her body is unseen. She seems eager to see what directions Judith will give her next. The decapitated body of Holofernes has blood gushing out of it, showing Liss's interest in the human body. Gentileschi has a similar urgency in her painting but shows Judith in mid-decapitation rather than showing Holofernes headless body. Gentileschi also uses the same amount of bloodiness in her painting.
Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes shows a different portrayal of this scene. Mary Gerrard points out that Carravaggio "reintroduced a narrative emphasis, but focusing now upon the dramatic rather than the epic features of the story and upon the human conflict between the two principal characters". Caravaggio shows Holofernes holding the blood coming from his neck like a string. Rather than making the scene of Holofernes's beheading more palatable for the viewers, Gentileschi differs by not holding back the gruesome imagery. Gentileschi also shows Judith putting her full efforts into the slaying, even by employing her maidservant. In bothCaravaggio and Gentileschi's paintings there is a notable absence of decorative detail in the background. Caravaggio and Gentileschi's paintings
There have been many different interpretations and viewpoints on Judith Slaying Holofernes by art historians and biographers alike. Art historian Mary Garrard believes that Judith Slaying Holofernes portrays Judith as a " socially liberated woman who punishes masculine wrongdoing." Although the painting depicts a classic scene from the Bible, art historians have suggested that Gentileschi drew herself as Judith and her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried for and convicted of her rape, as Holofernes. Gentileschi's biographer Mary Garrard famously proposed an autobiographical reading of the painting, stating that it functions as "a cathartic expression of the artist's private, and perhaps repressed, rage". Others suggest that a more feminist approach that should be taken. Griselda Pollock suggests that the painting should be “read less in terms of its overt references to Artemisia’s experience than as a encoding of the artist's sublimated responses to events in her life and the historical context in which she worked.” 
The reception for Judith Slaying Holofernes varied. A Florentine biographer named Filippo Baldinucci described Judith Slaying Holofernes as " inspiring no little amount of terror."  The painting was incredibly popular, mainly due to the grotesque nature of the biblical scene, but also because of the artist's gender. When the painting was sold by Signora Saveria de Simone in 1827, it was sold as a work of Caravaggio. This confusion shows Gentileschi’s dedication as a caravagistta. In recent decades, there has been much art historical interest in this painting, with Eva Straussman- Pflanzer explaining that "the painting has... gained... distinction due to its feminist-inspired inclusion in the history of art".
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