judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes

Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
This painting is attributed to Artemisia due to her adoption of Caravaggesque technique and composition. [5] Despite following the works of their contemporary Caravaggio, Artemisia and her father developed their own independent styles. [1] The explicit nature of the artist’s interpretation has led writers to believe that there is a deeper meaning behind Artemisia’s Judith, drawing back to the rape trial against Agostino Tassi. Identification with the protagonist of the painting is also believed to be an indicator of ownership. [5] The precise date of execution is up for debate, since Artemisia had been traveling around Italy at this time. [1] [5]
The 2001 exhibition catalogue on Artemisia Gentileschi and her father Orazio remarked that “the painting is generally recognized as Artemisia’s finest work”. [1] . Others have concurred, and the art historian Letizia Treves concluded that with this painting “Artemisia rightly takes her place among the leading artists of the Italian Baroque.” [4]

Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
Critics attribute the graphic power plays of Gentileschi’s greatest works, including Judith Beheading Holofernes and Jael and Sisera, to a long and painful rape trial that plagued her teenage years. Agostino Tassi, a peer of her father’s, had raped the young artist, then promised her marriage to save her endangered reputation. Tassi was no stranger to deception, having changed his name and birthplace to feign nobility. Obsessed by grandeur, Tassi also falsified his own adoption by a marquess. He was a serial rapist, his victims including his own sister-in-law, and was said to have contracted bandits to assassinate his wife, who had gone inexplicably MIA.
Gentileschi chooses a gentler moment in the tale for this tableau. She forgoes the gratuitous head-sawing of the acclaimed artwork she had painted years prior, in all its gory glory. Judith has slayed her adversary and now checks for witnesses, lit among the shadows of the enemy’s lair. Her young maidservant stows the gray head in a sack, readying to tow the unlikely booty back to Bethulia. Their moment of silent triumph is untarnished by Holofernes’ grotesque head, which is relegated to a shadowy edge of the artwork. Not a single blood stain is to be found. Is the dubious cleanliness of Judith’s dress and hands an appeasement of delicate 17 th century sensibilities, or a testament to the heroine’s decapitation prowess?

Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes”
When it comes to painting any religious doctrine, particularly the Old Testament, there are literally thousands of paintings. It’s a popular, yet somewhat touchy, subject. There is a reserved reverence for many biblical paintings, and you often lose the sense that the stories within are based on mythology and the intimation of a higher purpose.

Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
On a linen canvas measuring about 6 feet by 4.5 feet, Gentileschi painted with oils. The canvas was thoroughly covered in gesso to prevent from the texture of the canvas to interfere or be visible once it was painted on.
Artemesia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter and is considered today to be one of the most accomplished artists of that time. She was the first woman to be accepted to be a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, Italy. The content of her paintings were mainly female figures from various myths, along with the bible. Because Gentileschi was a woman, and because she was raped and went forth prosecuting the rapist (which was very unheard of at the time, her achievements were overlooked for generations. Today, she is known to be one of the most progressive and expressionist painters of the baroque period.

Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
Captions for image(s) above:
In addition, the “painting” that these two “artists” have created is the head of Holofernes’ in their basket. The reason why is that capolavoro, the Italian for masterpiece, literally means head-work. 4 It is a pun of great significance for Italian art that will help you identify the underlying meaning of many other compositions too. It’s worth keeping in mind.



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