The tale of Judith slaying Holofernes is inspired by the biblical Book of Judith from the Hebrew Apocrypha. In the story, Judith seduces and beheads Holofernes, an Assyrian general whose troops are besieging Judith’s city. Gentileschi’s version presents a stalwart depiction of Judith as an athletic heroine fully capable of completing the gruesome act. Yet as the Italian prints accompanying the magnificent Uffizi painting attest (in Gallery 202a), most depictions skip directly to the bagging of the severed head and reduce her sword to a seductive fashion accessory, rather than a murder weapon.
In the Hilliard exhibition, Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes (above), a startling drawing from around 1550 by the Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration, completes Judith's saga by focusing solely on the aftermath. It is an exercise in contrasts and contortions, with black and white highlights dancing atop the Master's distinctively deep purple ground. The resulting Mannerist excess palpably renders the enemy camp's turmoil following Judith's ferocious act. While the artist prepared a related drawing of Holofernes’s demise, he made at least two versions of this much rarer subject. Though she is physically absent, Judith's recent presence is very much felt in the bloody severed neck on the toppled central body. It leaves no doubt of her peak physical form and commitment to her cause. A tiny detail in the distance further cements her tactical ingenuity. The minute dot at the end of a spike issuing diagonally from the besieged city's gate in fact represents her dripping trophy. Mounted in plain sight before its owner had even been missed, Holofernes's head became a rallying point for the Israelites that ended the siege.
This unusual focus on the discovery (rather than the slaying) of Holofernes reappears in a print series by Philip Galle after Maerten van Heemskerck from 1564 that expanded the Book of Judith narrative into eight scenes. Six of these curious prints are on display near the Gentileschi painting. They document each step of the story exhaustively, including Judith's radical decision to save her besieged home city of Bethulia; her preparation for the seduction; her wily success with Holofernes; her efficient decapitation of the inebriated general; her victorious display of the head to her people, and finally, the discovery of the headless body and its disheartening effect on the Assyrian army (above). Visitors to both exhibitions will note that the diminutive head appears in the distance above the city walls in both instances (detail from Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes below). Although the Book of Judith explicitly mentions her strategic use of the head, the similarity of the two depictions makes one wonder . . . Did Heemskerck somehow know the Hilliard drawing, perhaps through a painting? If so, he liked what he saw.
Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration (Netherlandish, active c. 1530-1560). Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes, c. 1550. Pen and black ink and brush and black wash, over lilac wash, heightened with white gouache, on cream laid paper, laid down on cream laid paper. Celia and David Hilliard and Harold Joachim Memorial Endowments, 1999.683.
Philip Galle (Netherlandish, 1537-1612), after Maarten van Heemskerck (Dutch, 1498-1574). The Discovery of Holofernes's Corpse, plate eight from The Story of Judith and Holofernes, 1564. Engraving in black on ivory laid paper. Gift of Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson in honor of Douglas Druick, 2011.1082.
14 min 4 sec ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show—which has Chicago as its only North American venue—this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
3 hours 26 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
23 hours 47 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.