... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

278: Judith with the Head of Holophernes

Judith with the head of Holofernes
So I, Kevin Bradshaw the Only, have uncovered the presence of Lucas Cranach the Elder, the weird German Renaissance artist I mentioned in my last post (five minutes ago).  One of his images really struck me and made me wonder what the story behind it was.  I still don’t know, but I gather it is a biblical story from a book which exists in the Catholic bible, but not the Jewish Testament or Protestant bible.  A rather striking young lady, with mangled robot fingers, wields a big sharp axe a sword of shining steel tempered in the fire.  She gazes dreamily into the middle distance, ignoring us and giving no heed to the severed head whose hair she grasps.

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes
She is Judith (Jude the Obscure?  Her details to me are obscure, but she is not that Jude who is of course a man...), and the poor debodied bloody-necked chap is Holofernes.  Who the hell is Holofernes?  Well, who is this obscure Judith, and what kind of a name is Holofernes?  Spellchecker agrees with me on the Holofernes issue, don’t you spellchecker?  Yes you do.  Would you prefer Holophernes?  No, me neither.

Judith with the Head of Holophernes, bySimon Vouet, (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

She is a Jewish woman, beautiful and brave, who has a cunning plan to defend her people against the evil Assyrian army.  She adopts the disguise of sexy spy and enters the camp of the enemy general, and evil servant of Nebuchadnezzar II; yes, you guessed it, it’s Holofernes!  She wins his trust with promises of secret information about the Israelites (and some Vitalite).  Rather than rousing his suspicion, she roused his, you know, his manly man bits.  She entered his tent where he lay Too Drunk To Fuck, and unceremoniously slayed (slew?) him.  Somehow she makes her escape, Holo’s head in her possession, and returns to her friends who congratulate her on a bet well won and pay her that fiver.  The Assyrians are hopeless without their leader and do one, and the Israelites are free to make up weird stories about boats and attempted infanticide.

Judith with the Head of Holophernes, byCristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London)

It’s not exactly a classic story; you know, it’s not bad for its time, but it hasn’t exactly captured the public’s imagination.  It seems however that a small number of artists have been taken enough to dedicate a canvas and their precious time.  It’s obviously not true, and not just because it’s in the bible, a book not exactly known (amongst thinking people) for its accuracy and truthfulness.  Even religious people of various groups think it is a story; historical fiction; non-canonical.  In a thousand years Dan Brown’s steaming vat of pen piss The Da Vinci Code may be argued over whether or not it is canonical to the Abrahamic world of literature.  At that point the Bible will have grown from just the Old and New Testaments to encompass the Koran, the book of Mormon, the script to The Life of Brian, a child’s letter to Santa, and a map of Paradise, Newcastle.

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