Judith Slaying Holofernes

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Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi was not the first to paint Judith Slaying Holofernes. Her father had painted Judith. Michelangelo, Botticelli and Caravaggio had painted Judith. Donatello had sculpted Judith. But she was the first to interpret the story of Judith, in a time when women had few rights, as an allegory for female dominance. In comparison with other contemporary versions, the composition, dramatic style, and emotions of the characters present a violently feminist view that may have stemmed from Gentileschi's own experiences. Judith Slaying Holofernes1, by Artemisia Gentileschi, is an oil painting and was completed in 1620. It retells the Old Testament story of Judith, a Jewish widow of noble rank. An Assyrian general, Holofernes, had laid siege to the Israelite town of Bethulia. Judith used her beauty to meet Holofernes and soon after he arranged for them to dine together. During the meal Holofernes became increasingly drunk, and with the help of her maid, Judith used his sword to behead him. She took the head back to her city, and seeing it on display, the Assyrian army grew afraid and was easily defeated by the Bethulians. The painting is dark and dramatic, as was the Baroque trend of the time. Its Caravaggesque style is obvious—the figures are theatrically lit from the side, and stand out from the inky, black background. Judith and her maid Abra stand to the left, partially over Holofernes, who is vulnerable on his back. A spotlight seems to have been cast on the action, with the wrestling limbs splashed by darks and lights. The bright movement is framed by very dark drapes, which hang motionlessly in the background. This almost-black backdrop lends an air of mystery, of dark deeds done in dark settings. Holofernes's body projects out on the bed, creating an impression of space. This position demonstrates another Caravaggesque influence, in its apparent resemblance to Caravaggio's The Conversion of Saint Paul2.

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