A highlight of the Old Master Paintings sale to be held on 3 May 2023 at Dorotheum is by Fede Galizia (1578-1630), one of the first successful female artists.
Fede Galizia’s masterpiece, in which the Old Testament heroine Judith holds the head of the tyrant, her sword still aloft, is signed in red, as if painted in the blood of the decapitated Holofernes. Judith, who seduced and then beheaded the invading general threatening her homeland, is at the centre of the painting, an important lot included in the Old Master sale on 3 May 2023 at Dorotheum Vienna. “It’s definitely about her, about the heroism, the strength of the woman,” says Mark MacDonnell, Old Master specialist. “It could be argued that this is a very female interpretation of the subject.”
Fede Galizia, the daughter of a Lombard painter, is one of a number of early female artists whose works are offered for sale in this auction and who have only been recently reappraised. The first monographic exhibition dedicated to Fede Galizia was held in Belluno in 2021.
Fede Galizia (1578-1630), was one of the earliest female painters to have achieved international recognition during her own life time. She has previously been regarded as an important pioneer of still-life painting, displaying her skill at portraying the exquisite and fine detail of her subject, clearly learnt in the studio of her father, Nunzio Galizia, who was a celebrated painter of miniatures. Following recent advances in scholarly research, she is now also becoming increasingly well-known for her figurative painting.
The artist, as well as painters such as Artemisia Gentileschi, returned repeatedly to the biblical episode of Judith and Holofernes as a subject for her painting. An early version of Judith is in the Galleria Borghese, Rome and another is in the Ringling Museum, Sarasota. In the biblical story, the heroine determines to save her people from destruction at the hand of the Assyrian army. Accompanied only by her maid, Judith gains access to the enemy camp and seduces their general, Holofernes, with her beauty. As soon as he falls into an intoxicated sleep Judith decapitates the warrior, placing his severed head in a sack.
This choice of subject matter can be interpreted, particularly in the context of the artistic environment in which Fede Galizia worked, as an allegory of the age-old struggle of women to gain recognition in a male dominated world.
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