More about Judith with the Head of Holofernes

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 Fede Galizia has Judith serving looks and decapitated heads.

Galizia  was known primarily as a painter of still-lifes. In fact, her Judith with the Head of Holofernes, located at the Ringling Museum, was her first attempt at a religious painting. Pretty decent for a first try, I'd say. Fede was the daughter of the painter and miniaturist, Nunzio Galizia, who may have been her teacher as well. 

Like many artists of her time, like Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi, the story of Judith and Holofernes made a big impression on Galizia. She was drawn to the tale at an early age, and she depicted the subject on many occasions with tiny variations. In this version, Galizia signs her name and date on the blade of Judith’s sword.

Taken from the book of Judith in the Old Testament, the story became a popular subject for many late Renaissance and Baroque female artists, as it allowed them to paint luxurious clothing on a woman without the constraints of sumptuary laws. Sumptuary laws restricted how bougie people could dress in public in order to avoid unnecessary flexing. Galizia’s passion for detailed still-lifes can be seen here in her expertise handling of Judith's clothing and jewelry. In the story, Judith changes from her modest mourning clothes to something a bit more fabulous in order to seduce the enemy general Holofernes. And damn did she go all out for this seduction; she sports a double string of pearls, drop pearl earrings, gold brocade bodice, silk slip, and a velvet beret.

Her raised sword show Judith’s strength and dominance at a time when women had little power. This strong and smart protagonist also gave Galizia the opportunity to celebrate a female heroine. But Judith couldn’t have decapitated the tyrant Holofernes without the help of her trusty maidservant! I just love to see women supporting other women. Ladies, if your maidservant doesn’t carry around your victims’ heads on a tray for you, you don’t need 'em.


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Annalisa Lopez