Formal Analysis: Judith Cutting Off the Head of Holofernes

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  • Topic: Chiaroscuro, Panel painting, Color
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  • Published : November 19, 2010
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Anne Klaire Reyes
Art Matters
October 26, 2009

Formal Analysis: Judith Cutting Off the Head of Holofernes

As I was walking across the 17th century art section at Walters Art Museum, hanging behind the big rectangular pillar in the middle of the hallway, an oil painting on panel by Trophime Bigot draws my attention. The high contrasting tones of colors and values and the artist capability to make the grotesque painting appealing interest me.

Judith Cutting Off the Head of Holofernes (Figure 1), ca. 1640,1 is consisting of a well-dressed female decapitating a middle-age man in his bed with the aid of an old woman. The elegantly dressed female using a sword to behead the man is named Judith. The male figure in the painting is Holofernes, as the title states. The old woman, who is wearing a light-colored turban and green dress with a yellow coat, is a servant of Judith based on her unrefined clothing. She is holding several lighted candles on her left hand and grasping Holofernes’ struggling hand with her right hand.

The rectangular shape of the painting, which measures 49.5 inches tall by 77.5 inches wide, offers Bigot an interesting spatial arrangement. The figures that are closely organized to each other have been cut off showing only the upper part of their bodies. They didn’t extend across the edge of the frame but it gives an expanding feeling because of the elongation of the figures. Also, the consistency of the diagonal lines present in the structure of the figures and drapery behind them harmonize with the horizontal frame.

Furthermore, the background of this painting is a plain red silk drapery that opens in the middle, hinting that the setting is inside a chamber. Specifically, the red drapery extends from the top to the bottom corner of the painting yet, the middle area is surrounded by darkness. The contrast of the light values of the three figures with the dark values of the background gives emphasis to the main figures. The lack...
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