Ringling Museum and Francesco’s Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes

An enthralling and captivating painting at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art concerns itself with one of art’s famous subjects in the most striking of ways.

Ringling Museum
JUDITH HOLDING THE HEAD OF HOLOFERNES by Francesco del Cairo, Italian, 1607-1664; SN 798, oil on canvas

by Daniel Miller

One of my favorite paintings in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is painted by Francesco del Cairo. Judith, seemingly stunned by her own actions, holding on to a decapitated head of a man that did her so wrong, she ended his life in such a grueling way. A very popular theme amongst great artists and storytellers.

Her servant urges her in the background to hurry. Protecting her in the moment of shock and astonishment. Life so quick and unintentional. The dragon has been slain, and the victor relinquished from its wrath. What will now come of the murder? Will her conscious, as well as that of her helper, be able to keep such a secret?

The painter in the classic and obvious Baroque style, captures the subject within its light in such a way as nothing else matters. Consequently, the viewer is tunneled into the gaze of Judith peering into the viewer’s own soul, asking for their utmost secrecy and silence. If we [the viewer] speak too loudly, she may be discovered and sentenced accordingly.

The gaze of Judith, the haste of her accomplice, the strong light and darkness all bringing this great painting to its historical significance and beauty. I encourage you to see it yourself.

More reading on this subject: The Most Beloved Beheading in Art History – A Top Ten by Art at Bay

About Ego Leonard by Joan Altabe

Ego Leonard comes across like clip art in three dimensions, like some poor cousin of “Unconditional Surrender,” like some nettlesome member of the Pop art family -that clan of colorable repute of the ’60s in rebellion against abstract expressionism’s inwardness. Ultimately, though, it gave us skin-deep Warhol, who was given to repeating images – Brillo boxes, Campbell soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, even the face of Jackie Kennedy in her bloodied pillbox hat after her husband’s assassination – and turned our perception numb. Warhol said it himself in exhibit notes for his first retrospective in Stockholm in 1968:
“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings…and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”

Ego Leonard strikes me that way – “nothing behind it” – a bad joke that extols the art of shallowness. It’s enough to send this writer who shrinks from the excesses of Baroque art running to it for relief.