She Wants Revenge - An Exhibit Exercise

Judith Slaying Holofernes - Artemisia Gentileschi

I got an interesting assignment in my art class last semester.  I had to go to a few local art museums and find a piece I appreciated and build my own "exhibit" around it based on a unifying theme.  The themes could not be an artist (Dali), artistic era (Baroque) or region/country (Italian art).  I had to find pieces of art during the periods we studied and virtually borrow them for our fantasy exhibit.

I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and saw a photo of Andy Warhol's gunshot wound scars taken by Richard Avedon.  After learning about the circumstances behind the shooting, I found my theme, women who seek vengeance.

I decided the women could be real, fictional, or mythical and be represented in paintings, sculpture, film, or any other artistic medium.  The artists could be men or women.  I found it interesting though how male and female artists depict their avenging ladies.  Artemisia Gentileschi's three paintings of the biblical Judith story as she beheads Holofernes has passion and conviction in the justice of the moment.  Artemisia was one of the few successful Italian Baroque woman painters.  She was raped and treated poorly afterward (belittled, tortured, and commoditized) early in her adulthood.  Did that influence the anger and disdain you see in Judith's face?  Please compare it to the painting of the same story by Caravaggio.

Now, on to the show.

She Wants Revenge
a fictional exhibit

She Wants Revenge

This exhibit shares with the viewer the theme of women seeking violent revenge or punishment on those who wronged them.  The reasons for the revenge could be stolen loves, betrayal of trust, political differences, or rejection.

While all of the works have one or more avenging women, most of the pieces were created by men.  You are encouraged to look at each piece and consider the story, the characters and the artists and performers to compare how feminine vengeance has been portrayed for the past 500 years.

1. Judith Slaying Holofernes 1614 - 1620, 2. Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes 1625  3. Judith and her Maidservant 1613-1614
Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi
Media: Oil on Canvas Painting
Movement: Italian Baroque
Location: 1. Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli Italy, 2. Palazzo Pitti, Florence 3. The Detroit Institute of the Arts.
Images Sources: Wikipedia

Judith beheading Holofernes - Caravaggio

Medusa’s Head on Athena’s Shield - 1595-1596
Artist: Caravaggio
Media: Oil Painting
Location: Florence
Movement: Italian Baroque
Image Source: wikipedia
Notes: Medusa was born and grew into a ravishingly beautiful woman.  She was a priestess in Athena’s temple.  She and Poseidon, “God of the Sea”, slept together in Athena's temple.  Athena became angry and changed Medusa's beautiful hair into snakes and her face so horrid that her onlookers would turn to stone.  After Persues beheaded Medusa, and he put her head on Athena’s shield as a weapon.

1. The Sons of Niobe Being Slain by Apollo and Diana 1660 -1670, 2. Death of Niobe's Children 1591  3. Les Enfants de Niobe tués par Apollon et Diane  - 1770
Artist: 1. Jan de Bisschop, 2. Abraham Bloemaert, 3. Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier
Media: 1. Brown wash over black chalk, 2. Oil on Canvas 3, Huile sur papier
Movement: 1. Dutch Baroque, 2. Dutch Baroque (Northern Mannernisms), 3. Romantic
Location: 1. The J. Paul Getty Museum , Los Angeles, 2. Statens Museum of Kunst, Copenhagen 3.Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, Rouen.
Images Sources: 1. The J. Paul Getty Museum , 2. PD Art 3. PD Art
Notes: As punishment to Niobe, queen of Thebes, for being arrogant, Greek deities Diana and Apollo killed her seven sons and seven daughters from above with bows and arrows.

Maria la Chiquita (Maria the Little One) - 1897
Artist: Jose Guadalupe Posada
Media: Engraving on metal
Location: Posada 36 Grabados, Mexico City
Movement: Mexican Modernist
Image Source: http://www.artoftheprint.com/artistpages/posada_jose_guadalupe_maria.htm
Notes: Maria Villa (prostitute name  - La Chiquita) was a high class prostitute in Mexico City.  On her days off,  she went out with her steady boyfriend Francisco.  He starts seeing another prostitute, Esperanza Gutierrez (prostitue name La Malagueña).  La Chiquita saw them at a restaurant.  In her anger she felt La Malagueña had insulted her honor.  In revenge, she went to La Malagueña’s apartment, words were exchanged and La Chiquita shot her.  As a twist, she used Francisco’s pistol, which he entrusted to her for safe keeping while he went out drinking and to keep him out of trouble.  In her trial she acknowledged the murder as a defense of her honor.  In this engraving, she is standing as if in a duel.  She received 20 years in prison since women were not sentenced to death in Mexico.

Chicago "He had it coming"- 2002
Director: Robert Marshall
Media: Movie
Location/Image Source: Miramax Films
Genre: Musical/Noir

Andy Warhol - 1969
Photograph by Richard Avedon
Movement: Documentary/Post Modern
Location: Surveillance Exhibit - SF MoMA - Spring 2011
Notes: Andy Warhol touching the scar on his belly where Valerie Solanis shot him after he rejected her manuscript.

Kill Bill 2 - 2004 (Opening scene, Beatrix and Superman, Bill’s Death)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Media: Movie
Location/Image Sources: A Band Apart Films
Genre: Exploitation, homage


  1. An excellent exhibit. You could have titled it, "It was a murder but not a crime." Do you think men look with horror on women's crimes of passions or are titillated by it?

  2. Carla - It depends on the man. Is he the reason for the crime? Is he an interested party in backing the woman? Is he a bystander that is afraid of such women? Is he a masochist that enjoys seeing women violently hurting others? Does he find strong women a threat, a treat, or a problem? Good question.

    I tried to find different art where the methods of vengeance are different, (disfiguring of Medusa and then having a man behead her and using her head as weapon, shooting a man who rejected your creativity, killing a man who shot you and took your child, killing a fellow prostitute who took your man and offended your honor (as rendered by a male artist), etc. Each one shows different points of view and artistic renderings. Do the male artists have a different way of rendering these themes than the women?

    On a side note, the Avedon photo speaks to me most. It feels like Avedon and Warhol are giving a warning to all men, "don't cross her." Makes me wonder why I am thinking that.

  3. I only see one female artist's work represented here. What am I missing? In the Gentileschi works, especially the actual beheading, Judith could be slaughtering a goose for the evening meal. There's something almost dutiful, obligatory, about it that makes it less horrific that the other depictions of woman's vengeance created by men. The most violent to me is the Caravaggio, and I know he was a sadistic and violent murderer in his personal life.

    The Warhol may affect you most because it is real, not fiction, a photojournalist documentation of someone's wounds.

    Very, very interesting project. Congratulations! Please let me know if I missed a woman's work here.

  4. Hmmm. I find Gentileschi's work very violent with strong emotions. Her one hand tightly holds his hair wrapped in her fingers, holding him down while pulling it. Her other arm almost looks like it is sawing his neck with the sword. Her expression, while stoic, is still holding anger or spite or hatred and acknowledgement that she is completing a job that is much needed. I am going to put up a painting telling the same story from a male painter of the same time, Caravaggio. In it Judith almost seems like she is afraid of her dirty work, not wanting to soil her dainty hands.

    I should have mentioned the other female artists present in this compilation. First, I consider all of the singers/actors in Chicago as portraying their parts as an expression of feminine creation, but also acknowledge the words, choreography, and direction may have been done by men. I also should have mentioned Uma Thurman's part in the Kill Bill series. She co-wrote it with Tarantino and I feel she inhabits and creates the character. The fact that the final fight scene with Bill is finished less than 20 seconds. She killed all her other enemies violently and after long battles. Bill, her ultimate kill, is snuffed out so quickly. He wasn't killed with a sword, but by the touch of her hand literally breaking his heart.

    I admit I need more pieces with this theme created by women. I am open to suggestions.

  5. Carla, BTW - Brilliant observation on why the Avedon/Warhol piece affects me most. It is real.

  6. I just noticed that on Gentieschi's version, she is not bothered by the blood splatter on her neckline or dress while the Caravaggio version feels much more delicate and less passionate... except the maid. Caravaggio's made looks pissed.

  7. I'm sorry...I meant Caravaggio's Medusa.

  8. Actually, in Caravaggio's beheading, the victim is suffering more than in Gentieschi's.


So,what are you thinking about?