Analysis Of The Moment She Shows The Head Of Holofernes Essay

Analysis Of The Moment She Shows The Head Of Holofernes Essay

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Both Lavinia Fontana and Elisabeth Sirnai have depicted antique heroines in their artwork, specifically Judith in the moment she shows the head of Holofernes to the Israelites. Although both generally cater to a contradictory tone when it comes to the portrayal of women in history paintings in the 17th century, Sirani’s depiction is much more adamant in its contradiction that Fontana’s. This is the true in the composition of the pieces, the treatment of male and female bodies, movement, and setting. The moment depicted is an equally significant choice by both artists.
This biblical moment is significant in that it is an event that reaffirms Judith’s chastity. This is evidenced in the passage “I swear that it was my face that seduced him to his destruction, and that he committed no sin with me, to defile and shame me.” (Judith 13:16) The snapshot that these two artists have chosen is identical, with the heroine in both holding the head, while someone else holds a bag underneath it. This is important in that this is a moment that not only reaffirms Judith’s chastity, but it is the moment of greatest triumph in the heroine’s life. She is making a powerful statement against her male adversary to the Israelite people. To depict a moment like this is to challenge the established role that women have in society in the 17th century. To show a powerful woman was uncharacteristic at this time and to show a woman having power over a man was even more oppositional. Another oppositional factor of the two paintings is the treatment of the male and female bodies that appear in the paintings. In Sirani’s Judith, the heroine’s body is not like a stereotypical female in that it is not half naked and thin with pale skin in a tentati...


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...hing is done on accident when creating a scene like this. Not only is the setting specifically depicted, but the composition of the pieces goes even further to empower the heroine. The unemotional nature of the heroine’s faces is uniform in each of these portraits. This avoidance of emotionality and eroticism was intentional as well as uncharacteristic for women in history paintings during the 17th century.
Every compositional aspect of these portrayals of Judith is aimed to be a social statement about the power of women over men. The setting, movement, action depicted, expression of male and female bodies, etc. all point towards a contradiction in the social norm for history paintings of women. Sirnai’s piece simply did so in a more direct and challenging way, while Fontana’s piece was less deliberate and did more to conform even in an oppositional context.

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