Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Charles K. Smith
English Language and Literature
The Biblical Judith was written over 2,000 years ago and has become elemental material for artists and writers who struggle with male and female identity. Questions about how beauty has been defined, and who has defined it, as well as the subject of violence as gender-specific territory arise out of the intertextual study of the many reworkings of Judith and Holofemes' "romance."
A rich array of Judith characters are developed by artists and writers that reveal cultural values about women. Judith as chaste widow is visually presented in the stone archivolt of the Chartres Cathedral and in Alfred Stevens Victorian painting. She is present in the literature by way of the Old English epic; through Christine de Pizan's allusion in The Book of the City of Ladies and Guillaume Salluste du Bartas' epic, La Judit (1574). Christina of Markyate's chaste sexuality is due to her reverence for Mary and Judith articulated in her twelfth century autobiography. In some of Chaucer's Canterbury tales, Judith, like Custance is upheld as the essence of virtue and purity, while in other tales, she appears suspect.
In the tradition of the "woman worthy" or femme forte there is Donatello's statue (ca. 1456-60), Giorgione's sixteenth century painting, and a multitude of works by Botticelli, Mantegna and Cranach. But the strength of the artist and her figures are felt in Artemisia Gentileschi's five paintings of Judith and her cohort, A bra. In studying Artemisia I found myself standing with Mary Garrard, Artemisia, Judith and the Handmaid in a newly formed collage of strength. And soon Shelley Reed, a Cambridge artist, joined us with her revision of Hans Baldung's sixteenth century painting in which she again removes the head and leaves the figure of a woman defending her right to bodily integrity.
Judith's sexual provocativeness is a favorite image in art as she becomes stereotyped as the femme fatale. Hans Baldung (1525), Saraceni (1615-20), Valentin de Boulogne (ca. 1626), Vouet (1621), Caravaggio (1598-99), Rubens (1630s), Correggio (1512-14), Vemet (1831) and Klimt (1901, 1909) present us with a riveting portfolio on this theme.
Contemporary literature is saturated with the sexual nature of power provoked by Judith and Holofemes. Plays by Hebbel, Giraudoux and Barker provide Judith with a far from heroic finish. But Nicholas Mosley's Judith finds a way to survive with Holofemes: heads do not roll, they connect.
Such deep and moving dialogs are formed between art and literature in the study of Judith that I hope the annotated bibliography of 480 works of literature, art and music included in the Appendix invites further study.
Curry, Peggy L., "Representing the Biblical Judith in Literature and Art: An Intertextual Cultural Critique" (1994). Open Access Dissertations. 725.