Artwork

The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they try to wield the large dagger. The effort of the women's struggle is most finely represented by the delicate face of the maid, which is grasped by the oversized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive. Although the painting depicts a classic scene from the Bible, Gentileschi drew herself as Judith and her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. Gentileschi's biographer Mary Garrard famously proposed an autobiographical reading of the painting, stating that it functions as "a cathartic expression of the artist's private, and perhaps repressed, rage."

This self-insertion was reversed in an influential composition by Cristofano Allori (c. 1613 onwards), which exists in several versions and copied a conceit of Caravaggio's recent David with the Head of Goliath; here the head is a portrait of the artist, Judith his ex-mistress, and the maid her mother.

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes is believed to be the main source of this work, and his influence shows in the naturalism and violence Gentileschi brings to her canvas. In both there is a notable absence of decorative detail in the background. Gentileschi's father was a painter of repute; he was also very much influenced by Caravaggio's style and painted his own version of Judith slaying Holofernes. Gentileschi herself painted two near identical versions of the episode; the second was completed sometime between 1614?18 and is held in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

A different composition by Artemisia Gentileschi in the Pitti Palace in Florence shows a more traditional scene with the head in a basket.

Judith's beheading of Holofernes has been explored by a number of artists including Giorgione, Titian, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens.

Judith and Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi

The painting shows a youthful Bacchus reclining in classical fashion with grapes and vine leaves in his hair, fingering the drawstring of his loosely-draped robe. On a stone table in front of him is a bowl of fruit and a large carafe of red wine; with his left hand he holds out to the viewer a shallow goblet of the same wine, apparently inviting the viewer to join him.

Bacchus was painted shortly after Caravaggio joined the household of his first important patron, Cardinal Del Monte, and reflects the humanist interests of the Cardinal's educated circle. It was not in the cardinal's collection at his death, and may have been a gift to the Grand Duke in Florence. It was unknown until 1913. When it was found in a storeroom of the Uffizi Galleries, it had never been catalogued or framed.

Bacchus' offering of the wine with his left hand, despite the obvious effort this is causing the model, has led to speculation that Caravaggio used a mirror to assist himself while working from life, doing away with the need for drawing. In other words, what appears to us as the boy's left hand was actually his right. This would accord with the comment by Caravaggio's early biographer, the artist Giovanni Baglione, that Caravaggio did some early paintings using a mirror. English artist David Hockney made Caravaggio's working methods a central feature of his thesis (known as the Hockney-Falco thesis) that Renaissance and later artists used some form of camera lucida. The model for Bacchus might have been Caravaggio's friend Mario Minniti, whom he had used before in The Musicians.

Bacchus, Caravaggio

Raphael is considered to be a ?master? the High Renaissance, a title he shares with Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He was born in 1483 and died in 1520, living a mere thirty-seven years. Despite his relatively short lifespan, he was highly influential throughout his time on earth. He produced a vast quantity of work in a variety of media. He was active in architecture, printmaking, painting, and drawing. During the first half of his career, he spent years traveling across Northern Italy and was influenced by the Florentine styles he saw there, causing this stage to be called his Florentine Period. After which, in 1508, he moved to Rome where he continued to work. Many of his commissions came from the Vatican, including the Apostolic Palace, which brought about one of his most famous works, School of Athens. Due to his relationship with the church, he and Michelangelo were fierce rivals throughout both of their careers, and often competed for the same commissions. During his Florentine period, this work, The Madonna Del Cardellino, was painted during this period, along with several other well-known Madonnas: The Madonna of the Meadow and La Belle Jardini?re. All three share several characteristics: Madonna is clothed in red and blue, the same three subjects are painted, the pyramidal composition, the natural background, and the connection to the church through the representation of books, crosses, or, indeed, the goldfinch.

In this painting, as in most of the Madonnas of his Florentine period, Raphael arranged the three figures - Mary, Christ and the young John the Baptist - to fit into a geometrical design. Though the positions of the three bodies are natural, together they form an almost regular triangle. The Madonna is shown young and beautiful, as with Raphael?s various other Madonnas. She is also clothed in red and blue, also typical, for red signifies the passion of Christ and blue was used to signify the church. Christ and John are still very young, only babies. John holds a goldfinch in his hand, and Christ is reaching out to touch it. The background is one typical of Raphael. The natural setting is diverse and yet all calmly frames the central subject taking place.

The Madonna was a wedding gift from Raphael to his friend Lorenzo Nasi. On November 17, 1548 Nasi's house was destroyed by an earthquake and the painting broke into seventeen pieces. It was immediately taken to be salvaged, and was hastily put back together, though the seams were quite visible. In 2002, George Bonsanti of the Precious Stones organization gave to task of restoration to Patrizia Riitano. During the six year process that followed, her team worked to remove the years of grime that had degraded the paintings color, and to fix the damage done by the earthquake long ago. Before beginning the project, they studied the work as closely as possible, utilizing resources such as X-rays, CAT scans, reflective infra-red photography, and even lasers. Riitano closely studied the past quick fix layers that had been applied and removed them until the original by Raphael finally shone through. The restoration was completed in 2008, and the painting was put on display in Uffizi.

In Madonna Del Cardellino, the goldfinch represents Christ?s crucifixion. The reason for its association comes from the legend that its red spot was born at the time of the crucifixtion. It flew down over the head of Christ and was taking a thorn from His crown, when it was splashed with the drop of His blood. The book in Mary?s hand reads Sedes Sapientiae or ?The Throne of Wisdom.? This term usually is applied to images in which Mary is seated upon a throne, with Jesus on her lap, but in this case, the inscription implies the rock which Mary sits on as her natural throne.

In some versions of Vasari another similar painting is described as the Vallombrosa version but it has never been identified.

Madonna del cardellino,

The Venus stares straight at the viewer, unconcerned with her nudity. In her right hand she holds a posy of roses whilst she holds her other hand over her genitals. In the near background is a dog, often a symbol of fidelity.

The painting was commissioned by Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino, possibly to celebrate his 1534 marriage. It would originally have decorated a cassone, a chest traditionally given in Italy as a wedding present. The maids in the background are shown rummaging through a similar chest, apparently in search of Venus's clothes. Curiously, given its overtly erotic content, the painting was intended as an instructive "model" for Giulia Varano, the Duke's extremely young bride.

The model for the painting has been identified as Angela del Moro, a highly paid courtesan in Venice and a known dining companion of Titian.

The argument for the painting's didacticism was made by the late art historian Rona Goffen in 1997's ?Sex, Space, and Social History in Titian?s Venus of Urbino". Titian contrasts the straight lines of the architecture with the curves of the female form, and the screen behind Venus bisects the painting, a large-scale division that is mitigated by unifying elements such as the use of colour and the floral patterns of the couch, cassoni, and background tapestries.

In his 1880 travelogue A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain called the Venus of Urbino "the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses". He proposed that "it was painted for a bagnio, and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong", adding humorously that "in truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery"

Venus of Urbino, Titian