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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Painting of the Month (66) Nov 2016: Caravaggio

I am back after taking a short break from Blogging 
and hope to visit many Blogs over the next few weeks!
Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes 1598-99
OK, the subject matter is a bit grim; The Book of Judith is in the Catholic Old Testament but not in the Hebrew or Protestant versions. It is found in the Apocrypha because some scholars consider it's many anachronisms cause them to relegate it’s status. It has even been described as the 'first historical novel'!
However, this post is about Caravaggio and his painting.  Michelangelo Merisi Merigi da Caravaggio was born in Milan in 1571 and died, probably murdered by any of a number of people out for revenge, in 1610 aged 38. His life was tumultuous even by the standards of those times. He frequently had to relocate his home after being involved in drunken brawls.
His painting style is usually considered to be early Baroque which is complex but broadly can be associated with the Catholic Church trying to re-assert itself in the face of Protestant reform.
This painting has many very interesting aspects. It captures the highly dramatic moment of decapitation. There is another superb painting of this subject by Artemisia Gentileschi  which I have shown below. For me, what separates the two pictures is the expression on Judith’s face in the Caravaggio version. It seems to convey her repulsion and determination at the same time. Caravaggio had witnessed the public execution by beheading of Beatrice Celini in Rome and he has managed to convey the horrific moment when a man loses his life with incredible anatomical detail. One would usually'read' a painting left to right but this composition is unusual in that the two women enter from the right.
Caravaggio is renowned for his importance in developing the style known as Chiaroscuro. This involves the use of strong contrasts often used in religious painting where a dramatic shaft of light illuminates the subject.
Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes 1614-20
Footnote:  Judith was a Hebrew woman who got Holofernes drunk in order to slay him. He was a general of Nebuchadnezzar who was charged with subjugating all of the nations who worshiped other Gods than Nebuchadnezzar himself. The painting can be seen as an allegory of Virtue versus Evil.
Artemisia Gentileschi was extremely unusual in being an, eventually, recognised female artist of the very highest quality.

12 comments:

Hels said...

Painting of the century, I would say :)

Re Judith’s face in the Caravaggio version, you suggest that Caravaggio had witnessed the public execution by beheading and therefore managed to convey the horrific moment of slitting the throat. But Artemisia Gentileschi worked with Florentine artist Agostino Tassi, the man who raped Artemisia when she was still a teenager in 1612. Thus Judith’s face in the Gentieschi version might show not horror but revenge on a male, and calm satisfaction.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - great review and thoughts, as too Hels' comment ... I've recently heard a talk on Caravaggio - but really need to learn more and I hope to get to the National Gallery exhibition on him - I may not ...

Always interesting to be shown art works and notes ... thanks - and good to see you around again ... cheers Hilary

David said...

Hi bazza,
Good to have you back!
I adore Caravaggio's work and found your post very interesting. By all accounts, and as you attest, he lived something of a wayward life. I remember seeing bits of Derek Jarman's biopic of him years ago, but can't remember much about it now. The only other little factoid I'm aware of is that he's often thought of as being perhaps the greatest of the great artists, and I'd certainly agree that his work is exceptionally brilliant.
Thanks bazza.
All the best,
David.

bazza said...

Hi Hels. That's a lovely point well made! Thanks for the info. History has not really been fair toward her undoubted talent.

bazza said...

Hello Hilary. Thanks for your kind comment. Caravaggio certainly had a great back-story. I wonder if he had lived longer, if he would be viewed up there with Leonardo and Michelangelo?

bazza said...

Hi David. I agree with you and I refer you to my reply to Hilary, above! I am happy to be back Blogging again. Thanks for visiting.

Sherry Ellis said...

I think I would have a difficult time looking at either painting for any length of time. They're both well-done, but I can't even imagine the mentality of the painter creating such an image. The first one definitely captures the repulsion in the woman.

Good to have you back!

bazza said...

Hi Sherry. Yes, I take your point but don't forget that these pictures were made in a time when many people would have done much of their learning from paintings (history, religion, myths etc). There was widespread illiteracy at the time of course.
Thanks for the kind words!

Annie ODyne said...

'for worshipping other gods' [just like the fatwah of today and I am repulsed], Caravaggio didn't think a woman in a white blouse would don an apron for great showers of pumping arterial blood? Clean laundry water must be more available in the Middle East than I would have thought.
Impressive that Caravaggio could paint so divinely despite being drunk/hungover much of the time and that joins him to all those literati who 'created' on opium etc. - into it while Out Of It ... and then there's Keith Richards.

bazza said...

I guessing that Caravaggio knew little of women's ways Annie. And, of course, contemporary life would have informed his work more than what little may have been known about the ancient Middle East! Keith Richards as today's Caravaggio - it works for me!

Annie ODyne said...

re Keef: a wit on Twttr referencing some of the deaths this year, ran a very Dorian attic pic of him to say Yet HE Endures. I suspect both Glimmer Twins having a subconscious battle of longevity re Fitness Freak vs. Indulgence and what gloating if SirMick goes first.
I may buy the new blues album, thinking of Brian Jones's blues band that turned into theirs.
Let It Bleed was my last interest in them.

bazza said...

I played the Lonesome & Blue album on Spotify. I have to say that I was slightly disappointed; I should go back and listen again. The older the better as far as I'm concerned with Stones music....