Judith & Holofernes...


04/25/16 - The bible tells the story of a young Jewish woman called Judith who, during the armed invasion by the Assyrian to her home town, discovers that the General of the invading army,  Holofernes, has fallen in love with her. Together with her maid, Judith leaves the walls of the city and goes to Holofernes' tent. Once there, she gets him drunk and, when asleep, decapitates him. This heroic act symbolises the triumph of humility over pride.
This dramatic story was depicted many times throughout the history of Art.  In 1456, Donatello created a bronze sculpture of a threatening Judith.
Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello (1455–1460)
Bronze - Palazzo Vecchio
Years later, Andrea Mantegna portrayed a much more insensitive and taciturn Judith. The woman, completely disconnected, does not want to face her acts and gives her back to the pathetic feet behind her. Her maid holds a bag in which Judith puts the head.
Judith and Holofernes, by Andrea Mantegna (1495)
Technique: tempera with gold and silver / Measures: 30 x 18 cm
In his approach, Caravaggio achieved great realism and harshness. Judith stands young, majestic, beautiful and even proud of her acts. Her maid, however, looks nervous and alert.
Judith and Holofernes, by Caravaggio (1599)
Technique: oil on canvas / Measures: 145 x 195 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica - Roma
Francisco de Goya also depicted, in the 19th century, the Jewish heroine in his series of dark paintings. The painting was done on the wall and then transferred to the canvas. The scene is dramatically lit and the dark palette makes no place for Holofernes nor spilled blood.
Judith and Holofernes, by Francisco de Goya
Technique: oil on wall transferred to canvas / Measures: 143.5 cm × 81.4 cm
Museo del Prado - Madrid
Finally, two women: Artemisia Gentileschi and Anna Ostoya. Gentileschi painted a frightening Judith, with an intensity and passion unknown to the time (17th century). You can clearly see the moment in which she cuts the head of her oppressor and how the blood stains the mattress. The violence of the painting was the way in which the artist expressed her revenge for what happened in her own life (she was raped by her mentor).
Judith Slaying Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi (1614–20)
Technique: oil on canvas / Measures: 199 x 162 cm 
Ostoya (1978), a Polish artist currently living in New York, took Artemisia's work as starting point for a series of painting and photomontages depicting the decapitation, currently exhibited under the title "Slaying" at the Bortolami Gallery in New York. Ostoya inspects the crime scene, analysing it and deconstructing it through geometric abstraction. In some cases she transfers the characters and in other, even Judith decapitates herself.

Serie Slain Abstraction, by Anna Ostoya (2016)
Technique: oil on canvas / Measures: 61 x 51 cm
Bortolami Gallery, New York
In "Slain Trances" (a series of black and white photomontages), her investigation of the crime scenario is more associative than analytic. She transforms the original painting into a series of  surreal juxtapositions, combining her artwork with others by Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe or simple daily life scenes.

Slain Trances, by Anna Ostoya (2016)
Technique: fotomontaje. Archival inkjet print on paper / Measures: 48,3 x 33 cm
Bortolami Gallery, New York
The violence of a Biblic story was reflected throughout the history of Art by some of the great masters. But for Artemisia Gentileschi and Anna Ostoya it was an excuse to bring forth the most profound feelings generated by the inequality suffered by women.

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Liliana Wrobel

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Carla Mitrani