One of my favorite things to do when I’m back in NYC is reconnect with old friends, which is why I always block out several hours to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This painting of “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” by Lucas Cranach the Elder was the inspiration for my painting “Golden Silence.” (Don’t you think Jeannie would have gotten tired of saying “Yes, master” eventually? I do.) If you haven’t been reading up on your Old Testament lately you might not remember this one. The Assyrians were pummeling the Israelites so Judith, being quite daring, got all tarted up and went to General Holofernes’ tent, seduced him, and when he fell asleep she lopped off his head. (Just like a praying mantis! Well she didn’t bite it off. She used a sword. Much more sensible.) The Assyrians were so freaked out by this that apparently they just packed up and left. Judith, though beset my many suitors, remained single to her death. (Maybe those guys were just being polite — I can’t imagine it would be easy to get a good night’s sleep with Judith — “Did I close the tent flap before I got into bed? What if I left the goat’s milk out again…”)
Cranach revisited this subject quite a few times. (You can play “spot the differences” with those two in the top row.)
“And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.” The Book of Judith 13:6-9
I love that — is there some way to use it in conversation? “Don’t piss me off or I’ll take your head away!” or “Don’t make me smite you twice!” I think there’s something there.
It might not be fair to say Cranach was obsessed — a lot of the paintings of this era weren’t that different from illustration in that the artist would get a commission with a directive (“We want a really BIG assumption of the Virgin right over here, I mean I want to feel myself being sucked up into the heavens. Can you do that? And make it fit around this sacristy?”) But I do wonder how much of it was his own idea. (“WTF? We asked for an assumption and we got this big bloody beheading! Nice hat though…”)
Lucas Cranach the Elder had three sons who were also all painters, John Lucas Cranach, Hans Cranach, and Lucas Cranach the Younger. (I know what you’re thinking but it’s not as bad as George Foreman naming all five of his sons George Foreman.) He also had a daughter Barbara — I’m sure everyone just called her Babs.
Hans was a chip off the old block, here’s his Judith:
She looks a bit bored but maybe she’s just tuckered out. And Lucas the Younger painted this nice young lady. I like it but… I dunno, something’s missing for me…
Where’s the big bloody head? He must’ve been such a disappointment to his father. (“Seemed like an apt pupil but he just never got the knack for viscera…”)