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
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Original Publication Date: 20 Apr 2010
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