Let me use the name “Judy” to take you on a fun linguistic and historical tour. My goal is to playfully guide you to an excellent article about a woman painter you may not know.
Older Americans on hearing the name “Judy”, may playful say “Judy, Judy, Judy”. They think they are quoting Cary Grant from his 1939 movie “Only Angels Have Wings” when he is talking to his girlfriend Judy, played by Rita Hayworth. But the phrase never happened in the movie. But being a good spirited fellow Grant played along with the apocryphal from as it filled American culture for decades.
“Judy” peaked in popularity as a girl’s name right after this 1939 movie. But I wager very people know the origin of the name “Judy”.
“Judy” is the pet form of the name “Judith” which comes from the Hebrew Yehudith which is the feminine form of Yehuda which, in Hebrew means “son of Judah”. But what does “Judah” mean? Well, in the Hebrew Bible (the “Old Testament”) Judah is the son Abraham’s son Jacob and became one of the twelve tribes of Israel. “Judah” means “praised”.
Back in Hebrew history, after King Solomon, Israel actually split into two large kingdoms: one called Israel and one called Judah. You can read more on this in this link if your are interested. But what inspired me to write this post comes next.
The word “Bible” etymologically comes from the greek word for “book”. And thus what Christians call “the Bible” simply means “The Book”, but actually, it is not a book but an anthology of Christian favorite books. Yet most Christians don’t know their Bibles at all, yet alone the history of their Bibles or how the books for their anthology were chosen. And even fewer know that different Christian groups have somewhat different collections of books in their Bibles. One such book is Judith.
The Book of Judith is not included in Protestants’ Bibles but instead is found in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. It is actually also excluded from the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) because the work is considered by many scholars to be non-historical. (see this wiki article). Nonetheless, the story of Judith is found alluded to in the Midrash and plays a role in Hanukkah.
In the Book of Judith, the Jewish heroine, Judith, is disgusted with fellow male Jews for not trusting Yahweh to deliver them for their enemies, the Assyrians. So with a servant Judith goes into the camp of the enemy general “Holofernes”, and promises him information of the Israelites. He slowly trusts her and then one night, she gets him drunk and cuts his head off.
Oddly enough, early Christians were enamored with this story — “oddly”, because the story portraits such a strong woman in an era when society looked down on women. Nonetheless, the Judith beheading story was so popular that paintings of the decapitation scene fill history, particularly in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. (see this wiki article for examples and some history)
One such Baroque painter was Caravaggio, famous for his use of dark vs light styles in his paintings. This article in the Guardian tells a fascinating tale of Gentileschi, one of Caravaggio’s followers who apparently meet him briefly when he was very young. Gentileschi’s story is of brilliant artist breaking into the field when women were not valued. Gentileschi, like many other artists, painted the story of Judith but put her own personal hatred for an artist who raped her in her youth. The incident became a seven-month shocking trial in Rome when she was young.
So if you are interested in this amazing woman’s life and her cathartic use of the story of Judith, give it a read in the excellent Guardian article. She was a fascinating woman.