3rd October 2007
I had not been working on my Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery for long when I came to realise that a shorthand expression was needed for the times when I found myself commenting on facts, the acceptance of which at face value might be an act of faith for many people, but to me seemed questionable. Not wishing to offend anyone I came up with the idea of referring any differences of opinion that might potentially arise to Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.
By tradition the Royal Marines are seaborn soldiers who combine qualities of loyalty, courage and tenacity of purpose of the highest order with an innate capacity to believe whatever they are told. It may be thought that whenever a reference to the Royal Marines is made in anything written by me I am indicating that I personally think that there is something fishy afoot. Such an assumption would be incorrect. When a set of facts are referred to the Royal Marines, or are stated to have somehow come to their notice, what is indicated is a possible difference of opinion upon which readers should make their own judgment as to where the truth lies.
Those of you who have been following the Phil Spector trial will be interested to know that, when Kim cast doubt in her blog as to whether Linda Kenney Baden’s absence from the courtroom was due to illness, as the judge and jury were led to believe, or whether it was to avoid the embarrassment of her sitting at the defence table while her husband was giving evidence, a General Order was put out by the Commandant General, Royal Marines, forbidding all ranks to log on to Kim’s DarwinException blog.
And when there was a chorus of disbelief among posters to the CourtTV message boards following Dr Baden’s testimony that, in an “aha moment”, he figured out that the clumsy criminalists had flung the victim’s body into the back of a truck and broken its neck thereby severing the nerve supply to the brain (intact at the time of death), the Royal Marines marched, colours flying and brass band playing, through the City of Portsmouth holding aloft banners with pictures of Dr and Mrs Baden. The rear of the parade was brought up by their mascot, a goat that had been renamed “Eureka”, sitting on its hind legs in a wheeled bath-tub. This moving display of support for the Badens was not reported in the American media.
Because so many of the pictures in the National Gallery’s collection have a religious subject it has, unfortunately, been necessary to make frequent referrals of stories from the Bible to the Royal Marines. It is pleasing to report that their belief in The Word remains unshaken. In what was, I admit, a wicked moment I brought to their attention the late Dr Ernest Martin’s theory that Gothic architecture was Satan inspired and that entering a Gothic church was indistinguishable from penetrating a woman through her vulva. (Article here.) The only response made by the Corps was an order that, on church parades, only officers above the rank of Major would be permitted to go through the front door of a church without wearing a condom and that, on no account, were any personnel to enter through the rear entrance.
Picture Captions: On the left hand side: The National Gallery’s three Judiths; Top: Johann Liss (about 1595); Lower Left: van der Neer (about 1678); Lower Right: Master of the Mansi Magdalen (about 1525). On the right hand side: The Tovey/Samuelson re-interpretation of Judith in the Tent of Holofernes by Liss - with strong associations with the famous Athena tennis Girl poster.
Looking through the various drafts of my as-yet-unpublished Guide to Erotic Art in London’s National Gallery I see that among the stories that I asked the Royal Marines to look at was Judith in the Tent of Holofernes. The National Gallery has three works in which the lady is depicted and - although some might say I stretch the meaning of “erotic” at times – no one would dispute that Judith’s meeting with Holofernes has all the necessary elements to get it on CourtTV.
I have written so much stuff about so many of the paintings in the National Gallery, and I have such a bad memory, that when I do a search (in this instance the key words were “marines” and “judith”) what comes up reads as if it had been written by someone else. Sometimes the “someone else” looks to have been a better writer than me. Sometimes he looks a bit crappy. Everyone has off days.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, one of several accounts by me of the Judith/Holofernes encounter bears a resemblance to the Phil Spector trial proceedings which is UNCANNY. I am going to upload it here exactly as it comes off my hard disk. I swear to you that I have not made a single change other than those indicated in square brackets [thus]. Because it was written in early 2003 events have overtaken the text in places. Johnny Cochran is dead. The Dwork (my shorthand word for Andrea Dworkin (see here in the Glossary) is dead. (God how I miss the Dwork – was she Good Value! Some wag sent her to review an exhibition of Vargas pin-ups and she entitled her piece “The Blond Sambos”).
Here are a few notes about what follows:
1. You will see that each of the paragraphs is numbered. They are culled from a FileMaker Pro database of National Gallery writings in which the numbers go up to 7062. The numbers will rise even more when I get round to copying the National Gallery-related contents of this blog into the database.
2. Sometimes, when I am typing away, I will put “xx” where there is something needing to be looked-up. The first “xx” that you will come to stands for The Book of Judith which is part of the Roman Catholic Bible but not any used by Jews and Protestants. The second “xx” should read Jacobus de Voragine. I knew the name, but not the spelling.
3. Everything that I write is designed to be accompanied by extensive notes. I like a book in which the notes are as good a read as the text and I shall endeavour to achieve this with anything of mine that is published. I live in the dream that the reader may be a student of art history who is stimulated by an unconventional approach but needs all the sources listed - as in any other book with pretensions of academic worth. That way, he or she can reject everything I say and make up his or her own mind.
4. The “Tovey portfolio” mentioned at the end of the first paragraph are 12 re-interpretations of National Gallery paintings in which Ian Tovey did the art and I provided quite a lot of the artifice. One of them is reproduced above right. I uploaded another of our re-interpretations on the page carrying the first drawing in the Count and the Widow fumetti erotica feature. To access it you have to be over age 18 and click on the link which can be found here.
So, written in the Year of Our Lord 2003:
228 The cab rank principal is the name given to the modus operandi of barristers practising criminal law which requires them to take any case that comes along their way regardless of any private opinion they may have as to the guild [guilt] or innocence of the defendant. I know about this because back in the Jurassic age I was called to the Bar. As an example of how the cab rank works readers are invited to consider the case of the Jewish heroine Judith who murdered a captain of the enemy host, name of Holofernes, in his tent. The incident has been recorded by many artists and a picture on the subject in the National Gallery painted around 1622 by Johann Liss (1595-1629) is,
as already mentioned, included in the Tovey portfolio.
229 Did Judith sleep with Holofernes before cutting off his head?
231 The story of Judith is set forth not in the Bible proper but in xx. More importantly it is retold in The Golden Legend which was written by xx in and is one of the major source books for Renaissance and later art. The Liss picture is ascribed to the Baroque period, of which more later. As The Golden Legend tells story the Assyrian army under the command of Holofernes is laying siege to the Jewish city of Bethulia. The inhabitants are ready to throw in the towel when Judith, a rich beautiful widow, devises a scheme to save them. She puts on her finest clothes and sets off with her maid through enemy lines. Beautiful widows have, as we shall see, a special allure and the Assyrian soldiers, knowing their general’s eye for a bit of totty, take her to him. Judith tells him a story about how she is ready to betray her people and take his soldiers into the city. Holofernes decides to seduce Judith but [Judith will later claim] falls into a drunken stupor before anything happens (if you think you can hear the Royal Marines forming up on their Parade Ground at this point you are not mistaken). Judith thereupon cuts off Holoferne’s head, puts it into a sack held by her maid and they carry it back through the enemy lines to the safety of their city before the deed is discovered. The artists of the Renaissance and later periods all buy into this story to a greater or lesser degree but it can not be right. However, the present exercise does not require us to go into it now.
>232 Supposing that you are a barrister practising at the Assyrian Bar and that you are asked to defend the lady. Supposing that the facts are that instead of escaping back through the enemy lines Judith, covered in blood and with the head in the sack, is apprehended ten yards away from the tent. And supposing that the Assyrian Redcaps [Military Police] go into the tent and find their general, in a state of tumescence, naked and headless clutching Judith’s panties. And supposing the maid points to Judith and says: “She made me stand there with the sack ready while she cut off the head.” And supposing that the Redcaps say that when they took the head out of the sack its eyes fixed on Judith and said: “She was the one that did it.” And supposing also that Judith tells the Redcaps that Holofernes deserved what he got. And supposing she then retracts her statement and says that she was using Holofernes’ sword to trim her bikini line when it slipped and accidentally cut off his head and so she is not guilty of any crime at all. The cab rank principal requires that, if asked, you will accept the brief and defend Judith to the best of your ability [even if you are Assyrian].
233 Actually, although all the evidence seems to be stacked-up against Judith, there is a good chance that she will be acquitted. You will try to keep women off the jury because beautiful widows do not play as well with women as they do with men. You will be able to call evidence that women did not wear knickers in those days, that is possible for the penis of a dead man to be in a state of spontaneous erection (if you believe Leo Steinberg, even if it is that of Jesus Christ), that the evidence of what the head said should be excluded on the grounds of hearsay, or alternatively when it spoke the head was not looking at Judith but at the maid. You could also contend that what the head said was in any case not inconsistent with Judith’s story.
234 You could call expert witnesses to testify that severed heads lose consciousness in 3 to 5 seconds and it must have been in the sack for longer than that. You could call attention to the fact that, in the one recorded case of a severed head moving its eyes when its name was called, it never said anything. You could say that Judith was clearly fantasising when she made the second statement because there was no such thing in those days as bikinis, or bikini-lines, or - on the evidence of the paintings in the National Gallery - even pubic hair.
235 You could say that the blood was tomato ketchup. You could plead diminished responsibility on the grounds that Holofernes was a known bounder and the accused, as a Jewish heroine representing the chosen people, acted reasonably in objecting to being occupied by him [and his soldiers]. You could call the Dwork (who is Jewish and in the opinion of many women another heroine) to give evidence on this last but would be advised to make sure that she keeps off the topic of soldiers masturbating themselves. You could claim that this was just another biblical myth and Holofernes never existed. All else failing, you could plea bargain the charge down to transporting an anatomical specimen without a licence. The prosecution’s case is by no means a slam dunk and they know it. Johnny Cochran can conduct this sort of defence in his sleep.
The reference to Andrea Dworkin does not exactly check-out. It seems to have been based on a long article downloaded from the Internet in 2002 in which a follower of Dworkin (a rabid anti-porn campaigner) whose name is John Stoltenberg criticized men for using pornography as an aid to masturbation. He is quoted as saying that men thereby supported an industry in which “men believe themselves sex machines and men believe women are mindless fuck tubes.” This may well have been true of Holofernes and his men. The question is: Where does it leave Phil Spector?