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Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Paolo Veronese1575/1580

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Only in his late works did Veronese begin to use darker coloration and depict restless, emotional figures, as seen in the present painting. In the early 1580s he worked on the decoration of the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci (Hall of the Council of Ten) at the Doge’s Palace in Venice. This half-length portrait of the heroine was probably also created during this period. To sum up the story from the Old Testament: during the siege of the city of Bethulia by the Assyrians, Judith succeeded through her courage and cunning in entering the camp of the general Holofernes and beheading him in his sleep, thus giving her people victory over the now-leaderless Assyrian troops. Veronese depicts the moment when Judith is about to hand her victim’s severed head to the servant standing to her right. Although the heroine is clad in orange-red and blue-coloured garments adorned with precious jewellery, there is nothing openly triumphant in her gestures. Melancholy and yet in command of the situation, Judith accepts her deed. Tenderly, but perhaps also a bit reluctantly, she reaches for the head of Holofernes. She averts her gaze from him and looks at the servant, who, however, stares at the horrifying object in front of her. Veronese has placed the head in dose proximity to the viewer and even suggests that Judith is about to remove it from view in a sweeping movement. The uncertain provenance of the work and the supposition that it has been cutdown make it difficult to determine its original use. It possibly belonged to a series of donne famose, depictions of famous, heroic women. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

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