It depends on who you ask, really. Take Caravaggio, for instance. When he showed the Biblical scene of Judith beheading Holofernes – the Syrian general who was about to attack her town – the expression on her face is most, well, expressive. “Nasty piece of business, this,” she seems to be thinking. Furrowed brow. The firm set of her lips. Yet she’s not grabbing his hair or slicing the sword through his neck at arm’s distance, is she? No, she’s stepped up and seems to be embracing the task. Grabbing his hair and pulling him towards the breast that he so desired. And then – speaking of nasty – there are the – oops – jutting breasts-the femme weapon of subterfuge. And certainly don’t focus on his expression. Or his exquisitely erect nipples. Surely, Caravaggio meant no connection between power and powerlessness, between desire and death. It’s not like she talked her way into his tent because he found her so fetching. Oops, again. Yes, that’s exactly how she – a Jewish woman from the town about to be laid to waste – gets into his tent. We won’t go into the perils of letting desire into your tent at the
moment since it’s so nicely illustrated here.
Then there’s Franz Stuck.
Where Caravaggio told the story in restrained, subtle ways, not so our boy Franz. Holofernes is prone, asleep, his arms raised as if in surrender after a rather, um, depleting intimacy with our girl Judith. (Go Judith!!!). She stands above him, a rather – rather – large sword as upright as a fully-fluffed, viagraed star of the slimy silver screen.
As she stands there, what on earth could she be thinking? Of the sweet little lambs and piglets who will be spared because of the blow she is about to deliver? Her husband? Father, sister, mother, neighbor? The righteousness of her preemptive strike?
Hardly likely, little puppy. Her head tilted slightly back, eyes narrowed to serpentine slits (there’s that darned snake again; I wonder if she belongs to Slytherin), she is most clearly enjoying this tender, quite empowering moment in which his desire has left him not just weak but unconscious (a small death in itself). There’s not a shred of anger or rage or resentment to her expression. No. It’s just a satisfied calm and sense of entitled purpose. Or maybe she’s musing on something. What she might say to the about to be expired Holofernes. “She who thrusts last thrusts best.”
This last doesn’t require much comment. the Act completed, Judith’s fingers as if in a death grip on the severed head of Mr. H, her dress half open, glittered, dazzling, and so very, very clearly in an extended erotic state. The nipple now soft and at rest as if acknowledging the trance-like state of Judith.
It’s all a bit gory, isn’t it. Though I must say, I do enjoy a good conquest, whether in the end he’s kept his head or not.