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Not A Podcast Episode 11: Blood Sweat and Paint

Judith Beheading Holofernes, By Artemisia Gentileschi, Via Wikipedia

“Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi, via Wikipedia

In which we contrast Artemisia Gentileschi’s bloody “Judith Slaying Holofernes” with Sean’s bloody nose. (If you faint at the sound of blood, this episode might not be for you.)

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One of the most fun names to say in art history: Artemisia Gentileschi

Here’s her self portrait.

Let’s start with the story behind the Gentileschi’s painting of Judith Slaying Holofernes. The Israeli city of Bethulia was under siege by Assyrians led by General Holofernes (first name; Jim). Judith enters the enemy camp, pretending to be a turncoat. The Assyrians figure it’s cool because she’s beautiful. She gives the Assyrians some intel, and they hold off on attacking for a few days.

In that time, Judith gets under the General’s skin, and he invites her over for dinner. He just keeps drinking and drinking and drinking. When he’s zonked, Judith decapitates him, stuffs the head in the maidservant’s food bag, and they sneak back to Bethulia. Holoferne’s head is stuck on the walls, and the Assyrians scatter.

This is considered an apocryphal story, not historical.

Gentileschi came back to this subject a lot. Five of these paintings survive. Here’s one of her more famous versions:

Judith and Holofernes (Google Art Project)

Caravaggio’s take on the same subject (Wikipedia)

Gentileschi was one of the most accomplished Baroque painters. She made this when she was 17: Susanna and the Elders.

Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, started out as a Mannerist but after the wave of Caravaggio’s influence spread, he took on a more naturalistic style — Artemisia also painted in a naturalistic style. When she was 18, her father hired his friend Tassi as her tutor. Tassi raped Artemisia. There is a lot to this story, and I highly recommend the book “Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art” by Mary D. Garrard.

To summarize, Gentileschi continued sleeping with Tassi after the rape, in hopes that he would marry her to “restore her dignity.” Enlightenment, sure, relatively speaking. A glowbug in a moonless forest still makes things brighter. After 7 months, Orazio took Tassi to court, on the basis that Artemisia was a virgin – otherwise there would have been no case. Gentileschi testified while being tortured with thumbscrews – basically a vice for your thumbs – to keep her honest. In Mary D. Garrard’s book is the actual testimony from the case, in which Gentileschi describes tossing a sword at Tassi after he raped her.

Anyway, read the book. To jump to the end; they won. Which basically meant Tassi was sentenced to prison for one year. Time of which he served: zilch.

Back to Judith slaying Holofernes. Still an early work, between 1614-1620. Chiaroscuro up the wazoo – the three figures are melting out of an inky black hole. Judith and her maidservant’s expressions stolid, but not melodramatic. They could be butchering a pig. Holofernes looks like he has accepted his fate, or is just too drunk to realize the extent of it. To represent Holofernes she used the visage of Tassi, her rapist.

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