Author: Artemisia Gentileshi
Painting: Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. 1625
About the painting
Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, circa 1625, is one of several paintings depicted by numerous authors about Judith, the fearless widow from The Book of Judith in the Old Testament. Artemisia Gentileschi herself painted four scenes of Judith’s story. Judith was an attractive Jewish princess, chosen by God, to save the Israelite town of Bethulia from an army siege commanded by Assyrian General Holofernes. Judith, accompanied by her maidservant, Ara, went to the campsite to find Holofernes and after using her seductive beauty, got him drunk and decapitated him with his own sword as he slept. Visibility in this painting is the spirit of the drama. The viewers are inescapably occupied in the action. The nervousness of the sight is contagious. The original work is located at The Detroit Institute of Art and measures 6’ ½” X 4’ 7 ¾”.
About the Artist
Artemisia Gentileshi, 1593-1654, was no ordinary girl for her times. Her father was a celebrated painter named Orazio Gentileshi, from whom she inherited her amazing talent for the arts. Most of Artemisia’s work was inspired by the endeavor of virtuous, martyrs, heroic and strong females from the mythology, classical literature and the bible. Being a victim herself of rape, her fondness of female dominance is remarkably present generally in her work. About this analysis
Although the subject matter of this piece of art is somewhat macabre, the realism, since we can almost feel the fear of Judith and Ara of being discovered; plus the story behind the author and Judith, draw my interest and fascination to attempt this analysis of its visual elements and principles of design. The Visual Elements and Principles of Design
The artist used efficiently, traditional actual lines to create a dramatic focal point in the form of a curtain in the upper right corner. The long, soft but rather bold and thick lines that give shape to a heavy curtain are accentuated by additional smaller wavy lines that suggest a delicate, but very bulky velvety texture in the curtain’s fabric. Implied lines are also used by Artemisia. Judith and Ara are both starring away nervously, suggesting their fear of some kind of danger, maybe the appearance of a member of Holofernes’ army to take them prisoners. The implied line of Judith’s left hand is raised to her front as telling us she is unable to see in the dark. Implied lines are also used to direct our attention to Judith’s right hand, which is still holding the sword downward, with the “S” shaped handle right on top of Holofernes’ severed head. Artemisia chose an aggressive vertical line approach that denotes and promotes strength in Judith and outline the realistic forms of the subject matters.
Gentileschi used naturalistic (or representational), shapes as well as traditional shape in her version of Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. Artemisia applies the use of shape in this composition as a mean to imitate the real world. Artemisia was a master of the human form that are always well defined on her compositions and depicts the beauty concepts of her time. As a two-dimensional painting the darkness around Judith and Ara are the pre-set boundaries and give the composition a sense of continuation beyond the canvas.
Lighting plays an important role in this work of art. The chilling nature of the painting, the developing drama, the women fear and suspense, the horrible act committed, all these elements called for the most appropriate technique to augment this composition, chiaroscuro. Artemisia’s work was greatly influenced by a well known painter, Caravaggio, a pioneer of the chiaroscuro technique. This technique is applied widely in this work for a two-dimensional...