Gentileschi/Wiley: Two Paintings of Judith 400 Years Apart
This exhibition presents two similar yet strikingly different interpretations of the story of Judith and Holofernes: Judith and Holofernes (circa 1612–17) by Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, 1593–circa 1654) from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte and Judith and Holofernes (2012) by Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977) from the North Carolina Museum of Art.
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Taken from the Old Testament Book of Judith, the story features a heroic young widow, Judith, who saves the Jewish town of Bethulia during an attack by the Assyrian army. When the army’s general, Holofernes, falls asleep in a drunken stupor, Judith cuts off his head, and the town subsequently defeats the army. The story of Judith and Holofernes—the vulnerable rising to slay a hostile invader, the oppressed overthrowing their oppressor—holds enduring appeal. The subject appears repeatedly throughout art history, from the Middle Ages to the present. It is depicted by well-known artists such as Caravaggio, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Sandro Botticelli, Gustav Klimt, and many others. Over the years Judith has been interpreted as a virtuous young woman, a seductive femme fatale, and a brave heroine.
Created four hundred years apart, these two paintings by Gentileschi and Wiley of iconic women in acts of courageous defiance and female empowerment stimulate discussion around gender, race, identity, violence, religion, oppression, and power—all of which have remained relevant from the seventeenth century to now.
The exhibition Gentileschi/Wiley: Two Paintings of Judith 400 Years Apart was organized by the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and The Museum Box.
In Raleigh this exhibition is generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support is made possible, in part, by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation, Inc.; and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment for Educational Exhibitions. Research for this exhibition was made possible by Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.
Kehinde Wiley, Judith and Holofernes, 2012, oil on linen, 130 1/2 × 99 7/8 in., Purchased with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes in honor of Dr. Emily Farnham, and with funds from Peggy Guggenheim, by exchange; © 2022 Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art and Sean Kelly, New York
Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes, circa 1612–17, oil on canvas, 159 × 126 cm, inv. Q 378, Napoli, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Courtesy Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte