Very interesting short article on a potential Carravaggio masterpiece on the BBC website on 12 April 2016 – apparently found in a loft of a house (by the owners) in southern France
The painting is one of particular interest to me as Artemisia Gentileschi painted the same subject – Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Artemisia was of the generation after Carravaggio and would have almost certainly been familiar with his work.
According to an art expert Eric Turpin the article states that he feels it is a version of Carravaggio’s painting of the subject done in 1599 – having seen this painting in my research for the 17th Century it would certainly fit. However the article also states there is always going to be a debate over the painter and personally I can see why as the theme of the work has been a popular one done by other artists such as Cristofano Allori in 1613.
The French government has wisely barred the painting from leaving France for at least 30 months whilst its authenticity is checked and if it is found (or there is strong evidence of such) to be a lost Carravaggio work then the government will be offered the first chance of purchase – this is clearly absolutely appropriate as you would hope that it would go on display after any restoration work (if needed) is done.
The piece is certainly reminiscent of Carravaggio’s style and in particular his use of chiaroscuro and his use of facial and bodily expressions in his figures along with his use of colour. Like all paintings of this theme it is graphic and I find this one of the most realistic except for what I find the somewhat benign expression of Judith – there is something bout her face I almost find disturbing in her calmness. On the other hand the expression on Holoferne’s face is one of horror and the way that Carravaggio has painted his eyes is one of deep horrifying pain (as you would expect!) but if art is done to express emotion on the faces of those painted or to create a reaction from the viewer then this certainly achieves both.
What I find curious is the expression of the maid – she is almost questioning what she had done but also with a slight look of horror too. The maid is looking towards Judith who looks out towards the viewer benignly but as if challenging you to disagree with their actions.
The drapes and sheets in the work suggest the wealthy position of the general as they are rich in colour and clearly of good quality fabric and depict Holoferne’s status as a general. I do love the use of chiaroscuro as this has been used to great dramatic effect in this work and adds to the whole effect of one of murder and secrecy and looking at this piece I feel it is one of my favourites depicting this theme – Carravagio’s works are becoming more of interest the more I study them despite me having felt previously I was unsure of them and perhaps this is down to his dramatism which he does so effectively.
Another one of Carravaggio’s version of this painting hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Art – like this piece it was also apparently lost before its rediscovery in 1950.
BBC History (12 April 2016). Painting thought to be Carravaggio masterpiece found in French loft [online] [Accessed 12 April 2016]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36024865