Claude Vignon - Cléopâtre se donnant la mort
This is another one of my favorite paintings, mostly because of the story behind it.
So the title of the painting is Judith Beheading Holofernes, and like most Renaissance paintings, it comes from the bible. The short version of the story is that the hometown of this woman, Judith, was about to be invaded by an army led by a guy named Holofernes. No one else had any plans about how to fix this problem, so Judith was like, well fine, I’ll just deal with this myself, so she went over to the enemy camp and got Holofernes super drunk. The biblical version is that he passed out before they could actually do the nasty (because biblical heroines can’t have/enjoy sex, no sir), but personally I think Judith rocked Holofernes’s world and then he fell asleep. Anyway, once he was out Judith grabbed his sword and cut off his fucking head (how’s that for phallic imagery?) and then put the head in a basket and she and her maid carried it back home to show everyone. Holofernes’s army was so freaked out by this that they decided not to invade, so the city was saved.
The death of Holofernes was a really popular subject for Renaissance painters, and Artemisia Gentileschi was no exception. Her version of the scene is really interesting, though, because of the story behind it. See, Artemisia got a pretty bad deal in life, on account of being like the only notable female painter of her age, so things weren’t great for her to begin with, and to make things worse, she got involved with her father’s apprentice, Agostino Tassi, and they had sex. He very likely raped her, and there was a whole trial about it (because Artemesia was a virgin before that, and as far as Renaissance Italy was concerned anything goes except deflowering virgins without marrying them first, because patriarchy) and it was generally a bad time for everyone.
So after the whole rape trial fiasco (during which Artemesia was tortured to extract a confession) she came out with this painting, her version of the Judith story. Guess who she chose to model Holofernes after?
Yep. Tassi is right there, upside-down and getting his head sawed off by a woman who looks a hell of a lot like Artemisia. There’s still debate about whether or not their relationship was actually consensual, or if it just exploded into a rape case because Tassi wouldn’t marry her, but I think all the answers we need are right there in that painting.
Look at Judith’s face. She is going to fucking kill that guy no matter what, and no matter how much he fights her, his ass is going down. For me, there’s nothing else to add to the discussion.
Anyway, Artemisia Gentileschi: yet another female artist who got a super raw deal as far as history is concerned. Respect, etc. (I may or may not have had a few glasses of wine before writing this. FEMINISM.)
RUBENS, Pieter Pauwel
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
St George Fighting the Dragon
Oil on canvas, 304 x 256 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Scene with Witches: Morning
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Mary Magdalene as Melancholy by Artemisia Gentileschi