This small panel depicts an apocryphal Old Testament story that had particular meaning for the citizens of Florence. The tale of the pious Hebrew widow Judith, who saved her village by seducing and then beheading the Assyrian commander Holofernes, was viewed in Renaissance Italy as a warning to tyrants who threatened the independence of Italian city-states.
The original function of the picture is unknown; it may have been made to serve as a door to a small cabinet or even as the cover for a small portrait. The image of Judith’s victory would have been appropriate for daily contemplation as its owner opened the cabinet, or as a companion piece to a portrait, and would have served as a moral example to Florentine women.
This picture is a version of a painting of a similar size in the Uffizi in Florence. For this reason, and because of the condition of the Cincinnati picture, the attribution to Botticelli occasionally has been doubted. Recent studies, however, reveal underdrawing by a hand like Botticelli’s, and undamaged areas of the painting compare favorably with Botticelli’s work from the late 1460s and early 1470s. Whoever the artist may be, the work is an exceptional document of the Italian Renaissance use of religious imagery for secular inspiration.