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Goya’s black paintings: Judith and Holofernes

Goya’s black paintings: Judith and Holofernes

Artist Francisco Goya
Title Judith and Holofernes
Year 1819-1823
Technique Mural (later converted to canvas)
Current location Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Francisco Goya - Black paintings - Judith and Holofernes

Judith and Holofernes

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) is one of the greatest Spanish artists of all times. His work includes portraits, history (especially war) scenes, religious subjects, and cartoons.

Goya has been the official court portrait painter and painted the portraits of Spanish royalty and nobility, but at the same time painted scenes from daily life and ordinary people.

Towards the end of his life, Goya had become withdrawn, embittered, disillusioned. He was deaf, he had fallen out of grace with the royal court, his country was at war again. Between 1819 and 1823, when Goya was well in his 70s, he painted a series of fourteen or fifteen dark, disturbing, enigmatic images directly onto the plastered walls of his house. These paintings, that were later transferred to canvas, are now known as las pinturas negras, the black paintings.

Judith and Holofernes depicts a scene from the apocryphal bible book Judith, in which Judith beheads Holofernes:

6Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes’ head, and took down his fauchion from thence, 7and approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. 8And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.

The painting probably formed a pair with Saturn devouring one of his children: Saturn is biting off his victim’s head, Judith is hacking off her victim’s head. Both paintings concentrate on the action, leaving out all irrelevant details. They were probably painted next to each other, on both sides of the door.

Judith and Holofernes is on display in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

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