After spending the last week in London and Amsterdam where spring has definitely sprung, I was delighted to come back home to a teensy-bit warmer New York. Despite spending four years attending college in the Midwest, where the long winters are dominated by snow, I was truly not prepared for the 50+ inches of snow that we have gotten here this winter. And the longevity of it too—just when I get a glimpse of spring weather one day, it returns to 25 degrees the next! Post London trip, I decided to seek comfort in a decidedly more British fashion—through warm beverages and hearty scones, which are best enjoyed while hibernating in bed.
When presented with the orange display at my local grocery store, it was easy to head straight for the blood oranges. With more antioxidants than your standard navel orange, blood oranges make me think of Stella McCartney’s Spring 2011 line, Italian sodas and Judith holding the head of Holofernes. Weird association, right?
I can’t help it that I interpret the “blood” in blood oranges literally (and apparently I am not alone, since one variety of the fruit is called sanguinello for the “full-blood” hue) and therefore, artistic renditions of Judith’s gory story are a quick connection to make. Most depictions show Judith moments after she has cut off the Assyrian general Holofernes’ head, but there are some, like Caravaggio’s portrayal dated 1598-99, that show the empowered Judith during the act of dismemberment. Caravaggio’s choice in scenes was not surprising, since he is best known for his dramatic renderings, made only more so through his skillful shading and dramatic lighting. Caravaggio’s Judith is spectacular here—she is captured as being both disgusted by the nature of her task and determined to complete it to save her people; she grips his hair carefully with her left hand, pulling towards her as she decapitates him.
The subject was a popular one, and heavily used throughout the Renaissance, with works by Sandro Botticelli, Donatello, Andrea Mantegna and others. Thirty years before Caravaggio’s work, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) painted the subject (actually more than once), with an equally dramatic flare, considering the fairly conservative style of the time. Cranach lived and worked in Wittenberg, Germany, and is known for his highly stylized and decorated portraits, all painted with a slight 2 dimensional flatness to them. Albrecht Dürer’s success with woodcuts influenced artists like Cranach to experiment with the medium, and Cranach employed some of the same techniques (namely his non-complex use of color and tendency to outline rather than shade with light and dark) in his paintings.
Almost 300 years later, Gustav Klimt approached the same subject (a couple times too), but instead decided to focus exclusively on Judith, and therefore only showing a glimpse of Holofernes’ severed head in the right lower corner. Here, Judith is seen as a fierce and elegant femme fatale, a common motif in Klimt’s work and generally popular in art at the time.
Inspired by a rise in interest in psychoanalysis and the psychology of sexuality, Klimt portrayed Judith as an intense yet elegant woman, staring seductively at the viewer. Her head is titled upwards slightly, showcasing her confidence and pride, something this is certainly missing in both Caravaggio’s and Cranach’s pictures. Klimt probably used his lover and frequent collaborator Adele Bloch-Bauer as a model, and he showcases her trendy hairstyle and fashionable dress with decorative Byzantine motifs. While all three pictures show Judith as a strong lady—an instrument of salvation from the Old Testament story, each work is also dramatically different, creating three separate components, not unlike the oats, blood orange and currants in these scones. Alone, each of these ingredients is delish—I could honestly probably survive eating only oats for days—but the combination of all three makes my day that much better. While I sincerely hope that none of you are tasked with decapitating someone this week, I hope that everyone has the chance to bake these and revel in the slightly warmer temperatures we are seeing as we approach the first day of spring!
Oat, Blood Orange and Currant Scones with Buckwheat Flour
1 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup oats
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
zest of 2 blood oranges
¾ cup unsalted butter, cold
¾ cup dried currants
¾ cups buttermilk, cold plus additional for glaze
¼ cup blood orange juice
For sanding sugar:
2 tablespoons blood orange juice
4 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 375°F and sift together the flours in a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and work in to the dry mixture with a pastry blender. When the butter is all generally pea sized, stir in the dried currants, zest, orange juice and buttermilk. The dough might be a bit hard to work with now, so feel free to mix with your hands until is has developed into a fairly uniform dough. Dump out onto a floured counter, and shape into a large circular shape, about 2 inches high. With a knife, carefully cut into 8 equal, pie-shaped portions.
Arrange scone slivers onto a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet, and quickly brush with the extra buttermilk. Top with sanding sugar, and bake for about 25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Let cool if you can, and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from With the Grain, makes 8
Featured art: Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, oil on canvas
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the head of Holofernes, 1530, oil on panel
Gustav Klimt, Judith I, 1901, oil on canvas