judith and holofernes


The Head Hand Bag enables its (female) users to experience a sense of victory without the need for violent action. This project explores the ability to translate an object into a story and a story into a product. The biblical story about Judith and Holofernes and its visual representation from the Renaissance were inspiration for the design of the bag.

A project by Yael Mer & Shay Alkalay.

painting Judith by August Riedel (1840)


Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings

1. Saturn Devouring his Son, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 143 x 81 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

2. The Dog, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 131.5 x 79.3 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

3. Two Old Men Eating Soup, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 49.3 x 83.4 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

4. Judith and Holofernes, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 143.5 x 81.4 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

5. Two Old Men, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 146 x 66 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

6. The Fates, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 123 x 266 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

7. Fight with Cudgels, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 123 x 266 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

8. Witches’ Sabbath, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 140 x 438 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

9. Fantastic Vision, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 125.4 x 65.4 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

10. Man Mocked by Two Women, 1819-23, oil mural transferred to canvas, 125.4 x 65.4 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source

Here is a selection of works from Goya’s famous ‘Black Paintings’ series, which consists of fourteen murals that were painted directly onto the walls of the Quinta del Sordo house in Madrid, where the artist lived between 1819 and 1823. They have since been removed, transferred to canvases, and become part of the Museo del Prado’s collection.

The series is pretty dark, to say the least. It is rife with themes of witchcraft, insanity, violence and death’s inevitability. My personal favourite is Saturn Devouring his Son, which is based on the story of Saturn’s Greek counterpart, Cronus, and how he ate his sons after hearing that they would eventually overthrow him. However, Saturn/Cronus was tricked by Rhea into swallowing a stone instead of one of his children. This son, of whom Rhea was the mother, was Zeus, and he would eventually have Cronus and the other titans imprisoned. Goya’s depiction is deliciously gory and terrifying. Saturn’s face is enough to give you nightmares!


1. Gustav Klimt, Judith and the Head of Holofernes (Judith I), 1901, oil on canvas, 84 x 42 cm, Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna. Source

2. Gustav Klimt, Judith II (Salome), 1909, oil on canvas, 178 x 46 cm, Musei Civici Veneziani, Venice. Source

In both his depictions of this particular subject, Klimt chose to show Judith holding the head of Holofernes, rather than presenting the decapitation itself. Furthermore, the compositional focus in both cases is the glamourous figure of Judith; the head of the Assyrian general is in fact cut off by the painting’s border and a dark sack in the earlier and later versions respectively.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, 2009.  Nostalgia Monday.

A stupid paint-over I did in 2009 of Artemesia Gentileschi’s rendition of Judith and Holofernes with o3o faces.  I think it was a thing that Anthony started.  I’ll never understand how Poupon is able to make all those crazy classical paint-overs and make them look so natural and integrated.



Artemesia Gentileschi was born on this day in 1593 in Rome. Unlike most early modern women who were unable to pursue artistic careers for lack of access to training and patrons, Artemesia was the daughter of painter Orazio Gentileschi, who taught her his craft. Artemesia was one of the first Italian women to earn praise from contemporaries for her artistic achievements and the first to join the esteemed Accademia del Disegno in 1616. She received commissions from important European leaders and ran a successful workshop in Naples for over two decades. She worked in her native Rome as well as Florence, Venice, Naples, and London. One reason for her success may be her refusal to limit herself to portraits, still-lifes, and small devotional paintings, subjects traditionally seen as appropriate for female artists. Instead, she tackled history paintings on a large scale and is especially known for her numerous variations on the story of Judith and Holofernes. She also became known for her female nudes. Like many artists of her day, Artemesia was drawn to the tenebrism of Caravaggio and adapted his dramatic lighting to great effect.

Some have seen a connection between her frequent return to the Judith story and her rape in 1611 by Agostino Tassi, a colleague of her father who abused his privilege of access to the Gentileschi home. Torn between concerns for his daughter and for his career, Orazio waited almost a full year before bringing charges against Tassi, who was found guilty but ignored his punishment of exile from Rome. Artemesia was married and moved to Florence soon thereafter. While these traumatic events may have influenced her portrayal of the subject, Judith’s story was quite popular in the early Baroque period. Artemesia’s graphic rendering of the Assyrian general’s decapitation is in keeping with early seventeenth-century art that emphasized the physical brutality of war and martyrdom.

Reference: Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T031374pg2.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1611-12, oil on canvas, Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Judith Beheading Holofernes, oil on canvas, c. 1619–20, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi; Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

Judith and her Maidservant, oil on canvas, c. 1611, Florence, Palazzo Pitti; photo credit: Alinari/Art Resource, NY

Susanna and the Elders, 1610, oil on canvas, Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein

Danaë, oil on copper, c.1612, St. Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and gift of various donors, no. 93:1986

Esther before Ahasuerus, oil on canvas, 1630s, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elinor Dorrance Ingersoll, 1969, Accession ID: 69.281; photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1630s, oil on canvas, Windsor, Royal Collection

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.)

Judith’s Return

Sleepers, the damp on my feet is still black, indistinct.  Dew they say. / Ah, that I am Judith, am coming from him, out of the tent out of the bed, out-trickling his head, three-times drunken blood.  Wind-drunk, drunk with incense-work, drunk with me–and now sober as dew. / Low-held head over the morning grass; but I up above on my way, exalted. / Suddenly empty brain, draining-away images into the soil; but gushing into my heart all the breadth of the after-deed. / Woman in love that I am. / In me terrors have chased together all raptures, on me all places find their spot. / Heart, my renowned heart, beat on the countering wind:
     how I stride, how I stride / and swifter the voice in me, mine that will call, birdcall, before the locked-in city of fear.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, July 1911