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Major in Fearlessness

Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553). The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara, ca. 1510. Oil on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.22). Right: Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553). Judith with the Head of Holofernes, ca. 1530. Oil on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.15)

In European Paintings gallery 643, we were struck by two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder that portray fearless heroines furthering the Christian cause. At first, we thought (wrongly) that the two works depict the same girl due to the figures' rich, red-orange dresses and pale faces with curly hair. We also noted the parallel between the guy beheading the girl in one work and the girl beheading the guy in the other. When we learned that the girls are actually different people—Barbara and Judith—we synthesized the two brave heroines into one and created a short story about her.

Here it is:

Maria is a happy princess whose dad pampers her with materialistic things: delicious food, ornate clothes, and all the precious jewelry in the world. The king is as fearless as Hannibal at war, and he achieves military discipline through ruthlessness. Anyone who refuses to listen to him is killed. 

When a group of soldiers who had defied the king's curfew approach him, he is furious. Maria steps in to save the soldiers, but they then betray her by making up lies about how she recently threw a party at midnight. The king, in his fury, takes out a sword and is about to kill his daughter while the treacherous soldiers watch, afraid for what is about to happen.

Suddenly, the clouds darken and the thunder rolls. The king drops his sword and withdraws in pain. Something magical has intervened.

Maria knows that her father's meanness is not innate but stems from the bad policies of his adviser Miguel. So instead of punishing her father, she decides to eliminate the root of his ruthless tyranny forever.

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