Gentileschi’s Judith

You pin him down,
you and your maid,
in the dark shroud of the general’s tent.

Oil lamp flare
illuminates one bare
shoulder, exposing the seductive skin
and black hollow of your breasts;
muscle-bound arms belie your femininity.

Sweet revenge gives strength to slice
through flesh, muscle and spine,
fingers of one hand entangled
in hair and beard,
in the other hand
a sword.

He offers no resistance,
drenched in alcohol
and the spurt of his own blood,
while you rejoice in delivering a city.

Kim M. Russell, 1 September 2020 (originally written in 2016)

Judith Slaying Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi, Florence)

An ekphrastic poem for dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night

60 thoughts on “Gentileschi’s Judith

  1. Wow, Kim, I’m blown away by the imagery in your words. It takes you to another place and you give this painting a whole new dimension in the scene you describe. Very stunning work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for such a wonderful response, Lucy. I have submitted this poem several times to anthologies and competitions, but it never got anywhere, so I thought I’d share it tonight. I’m glad I did. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Bjorn. Gentileschi’s work is all the more amazing because she was a female artist at a time when it was almost unheard of and she was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. There currently an exhibition of her work in London. I wish I could visit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So sorry you can’t get to London to see it. It’s my first time seeing the artist’s work and oh my would love to see more of it. Up close would be a dream come true!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sanaa, There is an exhibition of Gentileschi’s work in London at the moment, which I would love to see but the pandemic has put a stop to that. I wish they’d have an online exhibition.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A different place for you to go. You succeed well, but rape, murder, sensuality and sex are dark beacons, and many a ship has gone aground while in their grip.


    1. Thank you, Merril. I like the innate feminism in her art. She is considered to be a feminist icon, depicting formidable women, and she was a single mother successful in a male-dominated field.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Victoria. Considering Gentileschi completed the painting in 1613, at a time when art was a male domain and only a dozen or so female artists had any success, Some learned to paint in their fathers’ workshops and others were noble women whose advantages in life included the ability to learn and practice the arts, and mostly focused on portraits, still life and religious themes.


  3. Artemsia’s painting is so muscular (compared to Caravaggio and others) – reckon she’d go on to down many more tyrants and lead her people to the promised land. A great story by a great painter – and your fine verse telling the tale – tyrants beware.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Peter. Apparently, Artemisia was influenced by Caravaggio, but for a woman of her time to produce such powerful art was inspirational. We don’t hear enough about female artists. About tyrants – it seems that Covid 19 has got Trump, although it might just be a ploy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was looking at Caravaggio’s painting – and his Judith shies away, slightly horrified by the blood and gore and the big heavy sword in her hand; Artemesia’s Judith steps in, sleeves rolled, as if she was despatching a goat or sheep; yes great women artists erased by the patriarchy – so glad you featured her.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kim I just went to wiki to get the story on the painting. I noticed two things: 1) the colors in the painting are different on the wiki picture; and 2) the dimensions: 158.8 cm × 125.5 cm ((6′ 6″ X 5′ 4″)
    I much prefer the colors in the image in the one you have.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, Kim – this is so visceral and powerful. You’ve used every word perfectly, I like the simplicity and directness of language you employ. I remember studying the Old English poem ‘Judith,’ but not very well so I’m going to have to look that one up now.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved the painting too, and thanks to you for teaching me of a great female artist who sadly I did not know existed. It’s so interesting to compare with the Caravaggio: I don’t think his meek looking Judith would have been able to get the job done!

        Liked by 1 person

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