Today’s fine art c-c-c-combo breaker: another portrayal of Judith and Holofernes!

Judith Slaying Holofernes is a painting by the Italian early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi completed between 1611–12.[1] The work shows an apocrypha scene from the Old Testament Book of Judith which details the delivery of Israel from the Assyrian general Holofernes. In this scene, Holofernes has been seduced by Judith, who along with her maidservant behead the general after he has fallen asleep drunk.

The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they try to wield the large dagger.[1] The effort of the women’s struggle is most finely represented by the delicate face of the maid which is grasped by the over sized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive. Part of the reason that the painting is so realistic is because it was very personal to Artemisia. Although it is a classic scene from the Bible, she drew herself as Judith and her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. Gentileschi’s biographer Mary Garrard famously proposed an autobiographical reading of the painting, stating that it functions as “a cathartic expression of the artist’s private, and perhaps repressed, rage.”[2]

Further deets (which for some reason I cannot apply a cut tag to? Sorry): 

In 1611, her father was working with Agostino Tassi to decorate the vaults of Casino della Rose inside the Pallavicini Rospigliosi Palace in Rome, so Orazio hired the painter to tutor his daughter privately. During this tutelage, Tassi raped Artemisia. Another man, Cosimo Quorlis had helped Tassi with the rape. After the initial rape, Artemisia continued to have sexual relations with Tassi, with the expectation that they were going to be married. However, Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia after he heard the rumour that she was having an affair with another man. Orazio pressed charges against Tassi after he learned that Artemisia and Tassi were not going to be married (nine months after the rape). Orazio also claimed that Tassi stole a painting of Judith from the Gentileschi household. The major issue of this trial was the fact that Tassi had deflowered Artemisia. If Artemisia had not been a virgin before Tassi raped her, the Gentileschis would not have been able to press charges. In the ensuing seven-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had planned to murder his wife, had enjoined in adultery with his sister-in-law and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial, Artemisia was given a gynecological examination and was tortured using thumbscrews. At the end of the trial Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time. 


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