17th C. Flemish Oil on Copper Judith with the Head of Holofernes. According to an account of the beheading of Holofernes, given in the Book of Judith, she is a beautiful widow who entered the tent of Holofernes because he desired her. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who planned to destroy Judith’s home, the city of Bethulia, and her purpose in going was to take his life and save her home. Overcome with drink, he passes out and is beheaded by Judith. His head is taken away in a basket or on a platter by a servant. This painting is an excellent portrayal of the subject minus the servant who is not always pictured.
Throughout the centuries there have been numerous paintings of Judith & Holofernes. Our Judith appears to have the same pose, in the same scene as that in the oil on canvas painting by an Italian painter Padovanino, aka Alessandro Varotari, around 1630. (See more about that painting below.) Judith has a handsome face with a straight Patrician nose and serious, sad eyes. A small red headpiece covers her hair and her clothing appears less than extraordinary with many folds of fabric on her blue bodice covering. Her left breast is showing although not in a provocative manner, but it does however indicate the artwork is 17th century Baroque and not earlier. History records that in the Baroque period Judith is portrayed in a somewhat sexier way, different than was the case in earlier paintings. Judith’s right hand clasps the handle of the sword which has a bird-head grip and her left hand rests on the lifeless head of Holofernes. In back of her on the left is a deep burgundy red curtain. Behind her on the right there seems to be a shadowy figure in the dark recesses. Mysterious? Or, perhaps it’s just a servant.
The frame appears to be 17th century and original to the painting. It is referred to as waffle or ripple style with mitered, half-lap joins.
Padovanino, aka Alessandro Varotari (1588-1649) painted his “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” in Venice, sometime before 1636. His Judith is posed holding a sword that has the same bird-head grip as ours, and Holofernes’ head lies beneath her hand, also in like manner. Her left breast is showing and she wears a garment that is very colorful. Padovanino’s Judith appears to be painted in a romanticized way as a refined lady with a beautiful serene expression. From my research of Flemish oil on copper art, I believe our artist used Padovanino’s painting of Judith as his model. There are numerous Flemish artist that studied in Italy before returning home to Flanders (Belgium) to paint. Note also, Padovanino was well known as a copier although he also painted his own originals. It could be that his Judith is copied from another earlier artist.
SIZE: Actual: 3 ½” x 3 ½”; Framed: 5 ¾” x 5 ¾” side edge measure.
MARKS: None apparent.
CONDITION: Excellent! There are no losses to the paint. The frame has lost some of its original finish. There are a couple of wood nicks at the join, visible from the side. There is a partial crack at the top front of the frame.
17th C. Flemish Oil on Copper Judith with the Head of Holofernes