Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours

Help us improve our prizes database. Contact us if you have more information.

Rodney Pople

Artist and family (after Caravaggio)
oil and photographic medium on linen
153 x 200 cm
Further information

This is a portrait of Rodney Pople being beheaded by his wife Felicity Fenner, as their two sons look on. The composition borrows unashamedly from Caravaggio’s Judith beheading Holofernes (1598). It has been remodelled here by Pople to create an equivocal family dynamic which accommodates four rather than the original three figures.

The narrative in Artist and family is deliberately ambiguous. The victim is an artist and his female assassin a curator of contemporary art. He seems horrified at his fate, yet his crime or misdemeanour is not possible to ascertain. In modelling for the painting the curator-assassin is a willing participant in its production. The children are also complicit in the slaughter, though their attention is elsewhere. Raised in a screen culture saturated with violent imagery, they are desensitised to the bloodshed afoot.

While Pople has chosen this particular painting by Caravaggio for its theatrical effect, the biblical references are not entirely coincidental. His work came under attack last year from church groups, with protests culminating in group-prayer vigils, including outside the artist and his family’s home. Primarily, however, the work continues a lineage in Pople’s previous depictions of himself, friends and family based on well-known paintings from art history.

The Caravaggio painting was also chosen for it technical approach. For Pople, Caravaggio’s use of image projection has resonance centuries later in his own incorporation of current photographic techniques in the painting process.

View on gallery channel