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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.