Decapitating Generals for Fun and Profit

Artemisia GentileschiFrench fabulist Jean de La Fontaine was born on this day in 1621. The inventor of Coca-Cola, John Pemberton was born in 1831. Injured in the Civil War, he became addicted to morphine. In order to cure himself, he came up with Coca-Cola. I don’t know how successful the cure was for him, but the temperance ladies just loved it. The founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller was born in 1839. And his grandson Nelson Rockefeller was born on the same day 69 years later. The great archaeologist Arthur Evans was born in 1851. And Mitt’s dad, George W. Romney was born in 1907. That was in the days when Republicans weren’t so willfully evil.

Lots of Hollywood birthdays today. Jeffrey Tambor is 69. Here he is as hilariously creepy-insecure Hank on The Larry Sanders Show:

Anjelica Huston is 62. Here she is as Maerose in Prizzi’s Honor:

Kevin Bacon is 55. I think he is rather good, but I can’t think of anything to link to. And Jaden Smith is 15. He’s the only one I don’t consider an actor. I would more characterize him as a precocious child with greedy parents who can’t allow any dollar to slip outside the family to a child actor who might be able to use the job. The entire Smith family is one of the most slappable in Hollywood.

The day, however, belongs to the great Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi who was born on this day in 1593. She was one of the greatest painters of her generation, and the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. Apart from having an amazing talent, she is known for her paintings of strong (if often suffering) women. She was particularly fond of the Biblical story of Judith. Judith - Artemisia GentileschiIt is really only accepted as canonical by the Catholics and Orthodox churches, which is sad because it is a bloody good story. The rest think it is non-historical, as though that isn’t true of a huge amount of the Bible. Anyway. The Jews are at war with the Neo-Babylonian Empire. So Judith goes to their camp and gets in good with their general, promising intelligence and most likely sexual exploits. One night when the general is in a drunken stupor, she sneaks into his tent and cuts his head off. Then she brings it back to her countrymen to urge them on to victory. Gruesome, but you can see why the story would find an audience.

We can assume that Gentileschi didn’t go around decapitating sleeping men, but she must have been an extremely strong women. It isn’t just a question of her thriving during a period when women were allowed to do very little other than menial jobs and baby making. She painted strong women too. According to art historian Roberto Longhi, “There are about fifty-seven works by Artemisia Gentileschi and 94% (forty-nine works) feature women as protagonists or equal to men.”

Happy birthday Artemisia Gentileschi!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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