Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Her Maidservant Slaying Holofernes
This picture by Artemisia Gentilleschi of Judith slicing off Holofernes' head is thought to have been painted shortly after she was raped by the painter she was studying under.1 Interpreters have thus seen this grisly scene as some sort of reprisal. That might be so but it would not be poetry.
The poetry in this painting can be found by recognizing that Judith (who may be a self-portrait) represents the artist “painting” the head of Holofernes with her sword as a paintbrush. The blood is “paint”.2 Holofernes’ severed head represents her actual painting because a masterpiece in Italian is un capolavoro, literally head-work. Though never recognized before, it is a pun of great significance to many Italian artists over the centuries.3
Click next thumbnail to continue
More Works by Gentileschi
Here is a good example of how borrowed form borrows meaning. In Artemisia's self-portrait as an Allegory of Painting, she thought of herself as a personification of Art...
See Artemisia Gentileschi turned a biblical story into a lesson about art and reality
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.