Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1620
A feminist at heart, I just absolutely love this painting and the artist. Stop me if you know this already, but the beheading of Holofernes is a biblical story. I’m working from memory, so bear with me. Just outside Judith’s city laid an army waiting till dawn to attack. Those in charge decided to put the fate of the city in the hands of God, because who were they to fight God’s will? Judith dismayed at the choice of inaction, approached the men and offered to take matters into her own hands. She said whether she failed or succeeded, it would be the will of God. So with her maid she went to the enemies camp, and seduced Holofernes (the top dog in charge). She encouraged him to drink, and to drink heavily so when at last he passed out from too much drink, Judith and her maid beheaded the man placing his head on a pike to be found in the morning. The army was in confusion and chaos, and the story goes on to Judith saving the day.
The painting its self I believe is one of three. There is so much turmoil and emotion found in this painting. The dramatic contrast of light and shadow, the blood and gore captured in mid-action. All of this painted by a woman in Italy during the 1600’s. Artemisia is one of the first recognized female artists. Looking at the painting I absolutely love the portrayal of Judith as a strong and thick woman. Artemisia’s own story is a sad and tormented one that I find shows within her work. Artemisia father was a well known artist and he employed a man to be Artemisia’s tutor. The man raped her, and her father brought the charges to court where the trial was largely public. Artemisia’s father won the case, which was rarely heard of during that time (for a woman to win in court for rape) but Artemisia was tortured and physically examined to make sure she was telling the truth, while her attacker was only questioned and thrown into prison for a short period of time(months). Most of her paintings feature women in acts of strength or seeking revenge. She’s an artist with little comparison.