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Orazio Gentileschi

Judith and the Maid with the Head of Holofernes

Judith and the Maid with the Head of Holofernes

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About the original: The painting depicts a story from the Old Testament, the book of Judith. The story was disputed among Protestants, and was omitted from their version of the Bible.

Central to the work is a straw basket with Holofernes' severed head. His distorted face is turned towards the spectator. It was Judith who beheaded Holofernes. She was a beautiful Jewish widow who used her beauty and cold-bloodedness to save her people from destruction. Together with her servant, Abra, on the right in the painting, Judith went to Holofernes' camp. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who besieged the Jewish city of Betulia with his troops. Judit was invited into the general's tent, where she got him drunk and cut off his head while he slept. With her head as a trophy and proof of a successful battle plan, she and the maid sneaked out of the enemy camp. The next morning the head was displayed on the city wall for all to see.

After the deed was committed

Shortly before the year 1600, Caravaggio changed the traditional depiction of this motif by showing the deed itself in all its cruelty. Gentileschi chose a less violent but more psychologically charged variant: the moment just after the murder had been committed and Judit had given the head to the maid. The blood drips through the basket and onto the white piece of cloth that was supposed to be used to hide the head. Judit still holds the murder weapon – Holofernes' own sword – in her right hand. The painter uses the warm tones of Judit's sumptuous dress and jewelry to emphasize her beauty, in stark contrast to the army commander's ashen face.

Judit and Abra look at something beyond the screen that the spectator cannot see. Perhaps they are looking at Holofernes' body, but based on the alert body language, it seems more likely that they are listening for signs that the guards outside are suspicious of what has just happened. The maid carries the basket on her hip, out of sight of any soldiers who might come to investigate. Judit rests her hand on Abra's shoulder. This is a sensitive gesture that connects the two women, who in a conspiracy have committed this courageous act, but it is also an expression of calm composure. By portraying them in sharp contrast to the dark emerald green curtains of Holofernes' lavish tent, attention is drawn to the two women, where they wait in suspense. Abra is strikingly young in this painting; many other painters have depicted the maid as a wrinkled old woman.

Cooperation between father and daughter?

The composition was repeated in a painting dated to around 1616–1619 by Artemisia Gentileschi, who used this motif several times. In an article from 2019, it is argued that this version was also painted by Artemisia. But most people still believe that it is Orazio Gentileschi who is behind this painting.

There is reasonable agreement on the dating of this earlier work. Most art historians date it to the period 1608–1612, with one exception, who dates it to Artemisia's version. This means that the work was painted during the years Artemisia was still working in her father's studio, and this painting could therefore have been painted as a joint production.

The painting depicts a story from the Old Testament, the book of Judith. The story was disputed among Protestants, and was omitted from their version of the Bible.

Central to the work is a straw basket with Holofernes' severed head. His distorted face is turned towards the spectator. It was Judith who beheaded Holofernes. She was a beautiful Jewish widow who used her beauty and cold-bloodedness to save her people from destruction. Together with her servant, Abra, on the right in the painting, Judith went to Holofernes' camp. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who besieged the Jewish city of Betulia with his troops. Judit was invited into the general's tent, where she got him drunk and cut off his head while he slept. With her head as a trophy and proof of a successful battle plan, she and the maid sneaked out of the enemy camp. The next morning the head was displayed on the city wall for all to see.

Date: 1835

Other titles: View from Grindelwald in Switzerland (ENG)

Designation:

Painting

Material and technique: Oil on cardboard glued on cardboard

Technique:

Oil

Material:

Cardboard sheet

Paper

Goal:

21 x 27 cm

Subject words:

Visual arts

Classification:

532 - Visual arts

Acquisition: Gift 1891 from the Association to the National Gallery's extension

Inventory no.: NG.M.00386

Registration level: Single object

Owner and collection: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Visual Art Collections

The painting depicts a story from the Old Testament, the book of Judith. The story was disputed among Protestants, and was omitted from their version of the Bible.

Central to the work is a straw basket with Holofernes' severed head. His distorted face is turned towards the spectator. It was Judith who beheaded Holofernes. She was a beautiful Jewish widow who used her beauty and cold-bloodedness to save her people from destruction. Together with her servant, Abra, on the right in the painting, Judith went to Holofernes' camp. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who besieged the Jewish city of Betulia with his troops. Judit was invited into the general's tent, where she got him drunk and cut off his head while he slept. With her head as a trophy and proof of a successful battle plan, she and the maid sneaked out of the enemy camp. The next morning the head was displayed on the city wall for all to see.

After the deed was committed

Shortly before the year 1600, Caravaggio changed the traditional depiction of this motif by showing the deed itself in all its cruelty. Gentileschi chose a less violent but more psychologically charged variant: the moment just after the murder had been committed and Judit had given the head to the maid. The blood drips through the basket and onto the white piece of cloth that was supposed to be used to hide the head. Judit still holds the murder weapon – Holofernes' own sword – in her right hand. The painter uses the warm tones of Judit's sumptuous dress and jewelry to emphasize her beauty, in stark contrast to the army commander's ashen face.

Judit and Abra look at something beyond the screen that the spectator cannot see. Perhaps they are looking at Holofernes' body, but based on the alert body language, it seems more likely that they are listening for signs that the guards outside are suspicious of what has just happened. The maid carries the basket on her hip, out of sight of any soldiers who might come to investigate. Judit rests her hand on Abra's shoulder. This is a sensitive gesture that connects the two women, who in a conspiracy have committed this courageous act, but it is also an expression of calm composure. By portraying them in sharp contrast to the dark emerald green curtains of Holofernes' lavish tent, attention is drawn to the two women, where they wait in suspense. Abra is strikingly young in this painting; many other painters have depicted the maid as a wrinkled old woman.

Cooperation between father and daughter?

The composition was repeated in a painting dated to around 1616–1619 by Artemisia Gentileschi, who used this motif several times. In an article from 2019, it is argued that this version was also painted by Artemisia. But most people still believe that it is Orazio Gentileschi who is behind this painting.

There is reasonable agreement on the dating of this earlier work. Most art historians date it to the period 1608–1612, with one exception, who dates it to Artemisia's version. This means that the work was painted during the years Artemisia was still working in her father's studio, and this painting could therefore have been painted as a joint production.

The painting depicts a story from the Old Testament, the book of Judith. The story was disputed among Protestants, and was omitted from their version of the Bible.

Central to the work is a straw basket with Holofernes' severed head. His distorted face is turned towards the spectator. It was Judith who beheaded Holofernes. She was a beautiful Jewish widow who used her beauty and cold-bloodedness to save her people from destruction. Together with her servant, Abra, on the right in the painting, Judith went to Holofernes' camp. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who besieged the Jewish city of Betulia with his troops. Judit was invited into the general's tent, where she got him drunk and cut off his head while he slept. With her head as a trophy and proof of a successful battle plan, she and the maid sneaked out of the enemy camp. The next morning the head was displayed on the city wall for all to see. About the original: Date: 1835

Other titles: View from Grindelwald in Switzerland (ENG)

Designation:

Painting

Material and technique: Oil on cardboard glued on cardboard

Technique:

Oil

Material:

Cardboard sheet

Paper

Goal:

21 x 27 cm

Subject words:

Visual arts

Classification:

532 - Visual arts

Acquisition: Gift 1891 from the Association to the National Gallery's extension

Inventory no.: NG.M.00386

Registration level: Single object

Owner and collection: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Visual Art Collections

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Orazio Gentileschi

Orazio Gentileschi was an Italian painter. He studied with his brother Aurelio, who was a pupil of Bronzino. In 1582 he went to Rome and worked for the Popes. Eventually, he became a close friend of Caravaggio, and they shared a mystically focused, religious circle of motifs.

It is recognized that they influenced each other stylistically, but Gentileschi's clear and elegant drawing and feeling for color and fabric are characteristic of him. While gradually distancing himself from Caravaggio's style, Gentileschi continued to adhere to the clair-obscur effect throughout his output. In the period 1621-1624 he was in Genoa, where he met van Dyck and worked for Karl Emanuel of Savoy. In 1625 he worked for Maria de Medici in France, and the following year he became court painter to Charles 1 in England, where he settled down for good. Gentileschi's most popular work is the Annunciation (1623, Turin).