Judith and Holofernes is from Kehinde Wiley’s most recent body of work and his first series of paintings to feature female subjects. As in his earlier work, Wiley used “street casting” to find his models for this series. He met the model for this painting, Treisha Lowe at Fulton Mall, a pedestrian shopping street in downtown Brooklyn. In the painting, she wears a dress designed by Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, who collaborated with Wiley on this series.
As in previous portraits, this painting references a specific art historical work. The Judith and Holofernes “quoted” in this work is the one by Giovanni Baglione which is in the Villa Borghese in Rome. Although it is true that Kehinde and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy were actively inspired by many portraits in the Louvre, Kehinde particularly liked Baglione’s piece for it’s post-beheading stance. Here are examples of how other artists have depicted the story of Judith and Holofernes in 17th century Italian Art.
The story of Judith is from the Apocryphal books of the Bible: a Jewish town is under attack by the Assyrian army lead by the general Holofernes. Judith, a widow from the town, goes to Holofernes under the guise of helping him to defeat the Jews. After he falls asleep, she cuts his head off with his own sword, and the town defeats the army. Wiley translates this image of a courageous and powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and anger. In keeping with Wiley’s signature portraits, instead of a coherent narrative background, the primary subject is surrounded by an ornate, floral pattern that swirls behind and over her body.
tags: allusion, heroine, storytelling, women, identity, power, conflict