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The story of Judith and Holofernes comes from the Old Testament Apocrypha,
sacred texts that were excluded from the Bible. Besieged by the Assyrians, the
beautiful Israelite widow Judith went into the enemy camp of Holofernes to win his
confidence. During a great banquet Holofernes became drunk, and later in his tent
Judith seized his sword and cut off his head. Their leader gone, the enemy was soon
defeated by the Israelites. This ancient heroine was understood in the Renaissance
as a symbol of civic virtue, of intolerance of tyranny, and of a just cause triumphing
over evil. The moralizing subject was a favorite of the artist.

Judith is portrayed as if she were a classical statue. The drapery folds of her
costume, a clinging white gown, fall in sculptural forms, and her stance, the twisting
contrapposto prevalent in Renaissance figures, derives from ancient models. The
heroine is serene and calm, detached from the gruesome scene as her victim's head
is dropped into a sack held by the servant.

Mantegna was trained in the Paduan workshop of Squarcione, but he was strongly influenced
by the Florentine sculptor Donatello. He married the daughter of the Venetian artist
Jacopo Bellini, and was influenced by his work, as well as that of his brother-in-law
Giovanni Bellini.

Details

  • Title: Judith with the Head of Holofernes
  • Date Created: c. 1495/1500
  • Physical Dimensions: w18.1 x h30.1 cm (painted surface)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Widener Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: tempera on panel
  • painter: Andrea Mantegna or Follower (Possibly Giulio Campagnola)
  • Theme: religious, Old Testament
  • School: Paduan
  • Provenance: Possibly King Charles I of England; by exchange to William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke [1580-1630], Wilton House, Salisbury, before 1625; by inheritance to his brother, Philip Herbert, 4th earl of Pembroke [1584-1649/1650]; by inheritance to his son, Philip Herbert, 5th earl of Pembroke [1620/1621-1669]; by inheritance to his son, William Herbert, 6th earl of Pembroke [1640-1674]; by inheritance to his half-brother, Philip Herbert, 7th earl of Pembroke [1652/1653-1683]; by inheritance to his brother, Thomas Herbert, 8th earl of Pembroke [1656-1732/1733]; by inheritance to his son, Henry Herbert, 9th earl of Pembroke [1693-1749/1750];[1] by inheritance to his son, Henry Herbert, 10th earl of Pembroke [1734-1794]; by inheritance to his son, George Augustus Herbert, 11th earl of Pembroke [1759-1827]; by inheritance to his son, Robert Henry Herbert, 12th earl of Pembroke [1791-1862]; by inheritance to his nephew, George Robert Charles Herbert, 13th early of Pembroke [1850-1895]; by inheritance to his brother, Sidney Herbert, 14th earl of Pembroke [1853-1913]; by inheritance to his son, Reginald Herbert, 15th earl of Pembroke [1880-1960]; (his sale, Sotheby's, London, 5-6 and 9-10 July 1917, 4th day, no. 542 [sold privately]); listed July to September 1917 in (Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London) stock, owned jointly with (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York); on approval to Carl W. Hamilton [1886-1967], New York, by 1920, and returned 1921;[2] purchased c. 1923 by Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[3] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, after purchase by funds of the Estate; gift 1942 to NGA. [1] The painting is first recorded in the Earl of Pembroke's collection at Wilton by C. Gambarini, A Description of the Earl of Pembroke's Pictures, Westminster, 1731: 93, no. 4. Johann David Passavant, Tour of a German Artist in England, English ed., 2 vols, London, 1836: 1:306, connected it with the mention of a painting of Judith by Raphael in Abraham van der Doort's 1639 inventory of the collection of King Charles I (published as Abraham van der Doort, A Catalogue and Description of King Charles the First's Capital Collection of Pictures, Limnings, Statues, Bronzes, Medals, and Other Curiosities, London, 1757), which was said to have been obtained in exchange for two works that had belonged to the Third Earl of Pembroke: a portrait of a young woman and a religious work by Parmigianino. The Raphael Judith is thus mentioned twice in connection with these two other works. First it appears in item no. 15: "A moddest forward full-faced painted younge womans picture..., onely a head, halfe soe bigg as the life wch your-Matie togeither with the 2. Children of Permencius had in way of Exchange for the little Judith of Rafell Urbin when you were Prince of the late decd Lo: of Penbrooke Steward of your Mats houshould: painted upon the right light." The Judith is mentioned again in item no. 26: "Item a peece of. 2. naked Children imbraceing one another signifying Christ and St John in-the desart said to bee don by Parmentius Chaunged by yor Maty with my Lo: Steward Pembrooke decd for a Judith beeing a little intire figure said to have been don by Raphael d'Urben..." (quoted from Oliver Millar, "Abraham van der Doort's Catalogue of the Collections of Charles I," Walpole Society 37 (1960): 79, 81). But Millar 1960: 232, rejecting Passavant's identification, has suggested that the Judith in the inventory may be identifiable with Giorgione's well-known painting of the heroine in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. The painting's inclusion in a 1992 exhibition about Lorenzo de' Medici's Giardino di San Marco reflected its occasional identification with a small panel painting of Judith by Mantegna, listed in the 1492 inventory of Lorenzo's collection. This work was similar in scale and function to NGA 1942.9.42, that is, "una tavoletta [small panel] in una cassetta [box] dipinti su una Giudetta chon la testa d'Oloferno e una serva, opera d'Andrea Squarcione [i.e., Mantegna]" (Libro d'inventario 1992: 51). Paul Kristeller, Andrea Mantegna, trans. S. Arthur Strong, London and New York, 1901: 20-21, who did not regard the NGA painting as Mantegna's, listed Lorenzo's little panel of the same subject among the artist's lost or missing works. Lionello Venturi (Pitture italiane in America, Milan, 1931, and expanded English ed., Italian Paintings in America, trans. Countess van den Heuvel and Charles Marriott, 3 vols., New York and Milan, 1933: 2: pl. 340, note) first identified the NGA painting with Lorenzo's picture, and Hans Tietze (Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika, Vienna, 1935: 328, and English ed., 1939: 312) followed suit. Though accepted hypothetically by Renata Cipriani, Tutta la pittura del Mantegna, 1st and 2nd ed., Milan, 1956: 60, and English ed., All the Paintings of Mantegna, trans. Paul Colacicchi, 2 vols., New York, 1963: 79, and by Rona Goffen in Small Paintings of the Masters, Masterpieces Reproduced in Actual Size. Early Italian School, ed. Leslie Shore, 3 vols., Redding, Connecticut, 1980: no. 30, the identification was rejected by Erika Tietze-Conrat, Mantegna. Paintings Drawings Engravings, New York, 1955: 245; Niny Garavaglia, L'opera completa del Mantegna, Milan, 1967: 109-110; and Ronald Lightbown, Mantegna, Oxford, 1986: 435, cat. 30. [2] The Getty Provenance Index provides the details about the listing in Agnew's stock. The entry for the painting in the Duveen Brothers Records has the following notations: "1/2 share Scott Fowles," "Sotheby 19/7/17," and "Agnew 23/9/17" (copy in NGA curatorial files; X Book, Reel 422, Duveen Brothers Records, accession number 960015, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles). According to Edward Fowles (Memories of Duveen Brothers, London, 1976: 127-129), a large collection of Italian paintings was offered on approval to Hamilton by 1920, but he did not purchase them and returned them to Duveen the following year. [3] Widener collection records, in NGA curatorial files, give a purchase date of c. 1921, but the Duveen Brothers Records list expenses for the painting into 1923, indicating they probably still had ownership until that time.

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