Judith and Holofernes

Judith and Holofernes

:"This article discusses the development of the iconography of this scene in Western sculpture and painting. For details of the account in the Book of Judith, see Holofernes and Book of Judith, and for its depiction in other media see Judith in later artistic renditions."The account of the beheading of Holofernes by Judith is given in the book of Judith, and is the subject of several depictions in painting and sculpture.

"Judith and Holofernes", the famous bronze sculpture by Donatello, bears the implied allegorical subtext that was inescapable in Early Renaissance Florence, that of the courage of the commune against tyranny. Michelangelo painted Judith in the corner of the Sistine chapel. Other Italian painters who took up the theme include Botticelli, Giorgione, Titian, Paolo Veronese, Caravaggio, Leonello Spada, Bartolomeo Manfredi and Artemisia Gentileschi. In the north, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens used the story. In European art, Judith is normally accompanied by her maid at her shoulder, which helps to distinguish her from Salome, who also carries her head on a silver charger (plate). However a Northern tradition developed whereby Judith had both a maid and a charger, famously taken by Erwin Panofsky as an example of the knowledge needed in the study of iconography.

In the Renaissance, especially in Germany an interest developed in female "worthies" and heroines, to match the traditional male sets. Subjects combining sex and violence were also popular with collectors. Like Lucretia, Judith was the subject of a disproportionate number of old master prints, sometimes shown nude. Barthel Beham engraved three compositions of the subject, and other of the "Little Masters" did several more. Jacopo de' Barberi, Girolamo Mocetta after a Mantegna design, Parmigianino, and Jacques Callot also made prints of the subject. The first reproductive print of his work commissioned by Rubens was an engraving by Cornelius Galle of his violent "large Judith", now in the Palazzo Barberini. [H Diane Russell;"Eva/Ave; Women in Renaissance and Baroque Prints; Nos 20-32, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1990; isbn 155861 0391] Judith was one of the virtuous women whom Van Beverwijck mentioned in his published apology (1639) for the superiority of women to men. [Loughman & J.M. Montias (1999) Public and Private Spaces. Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Houses, p. 81.] Judith was depicted by Eglon van der Neer.



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  • Judith and Holofernes —    A story from the Apocrypha that relates how Judith saved the Israelites from the Babylonians, who had cut off their water supply. Judith entered the Babylonian camp and agreed to dine with Holofernes, their commander. She gave him so much to… …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

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