Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi

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I love comparing Gentileschi’s and Caravaggio’s Judiths. C’s looks young, thin, nubile, grossed-out by the task at hand. She’s holding Holofernes’s hair gingerly and sort of gently severing his head, without visible effort. Look at her lovely, straight posture. Remove the bloody head from the picture and she could be doing needlepoint, she’s so dainty. Care has been taken to make this Judith attractive. All the intensity in this painting belongs to the maid, who seems much more sure that Holofernes needs to die. Perhaps for this reason she is a hunched crone, not young like G’s maid. Emotion is ugly. She’s like “yeeeah let’s do this thing, this guy sucks” and Judith is like “ewww this is gross can I go home now?”.

G’s Judith is burly and determined. She has this big handful of hair in one hand and with the other is grimly sawing through Holofernes’s neck. Interestingly, it looks like he’s already dead in this one and she’s just doing the admittedly horrible work of cutting his head completely off. She isn’t letting the sword cut for her like C’s Judith, she’s putting her whole weight behind it and yanking it through his flesh. She is thick-armed, double-chinned and badass, cooperating with her maid rather than being goaded by her. She has the face of a woman who has just stabbed a guy through his neck.

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