Judith Slaying Holofernes

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Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1612
I feel it. Can you? The eyes of judging viewers, neither alleviating nor sympathizing with her pain, allowing her assault to go on well beyond the confines of her rape. A public trial that ends in a deep seeded hatred of men, with just cause, of course. Artemisia Gentileschi paints her version of Judith Slaying Holofernes in 1612, and the hate she feels for her rapist and all men radiates through. While one admires the virtuosity and sheer magnificence of the painting, with its rich flesh tones and flowing fabrics of crimson and gold, the horror and brutality can not be overlooked.

Gentileschi was a woman unlike any other in the era of Italian Baroque. She grew up under the watchful eye of her painter father who encouraged and cultivated her talent. Then in 1611 her father began working with Agostino Tassi to decorate the vaults of Casino della Rosa inside the Pallavinci Rospigliosi Palace in Rome. He liked the work that Tassi was doing, so he hired the painter to tutor his daughter. Behind the closed doors of the painter's studio, Tassi raped Gentileschi with the help of Cosmio Quorlis. Her father then pressed charges against Tassi,which resulted in a seven month trial in which Gentileschi was given a gynecological examination and was tortured using thumbscrews. Tassi was eventually sentenced to a year in jail, although he never served the time.
Detail Judith Slaying Holofernes

The narrative unfolds in front of the viewer as a drunken man becomes witness to his own murder as his eyes are pried open by the jolting pain. The woman, whose arms represent purpose and strength, knows exactly what it takes to save her town from an invading army. The most visually dramatic feature of the panting is the blood splattering from Holofernes severed throat.

It comes as no surprise that this painting manifests itself right after Gentileschi’s rape and public humiliation. The cold demeanor of Judith and the uncanny resemblance to Gentileschi supports the claim that she is painting what she would like to do to her attackers. 

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