donatello judith and holofernes

Judith symbolizes victory by the weak over the strong for a just cause. Both virtue and liberty are also meanings present in this statue. It also believed to represent Florentine liberty with its original, but no longer visible, inscription relating to kingdoms and cities, the prior falling through luxury and the latter rising through virtue.
The statue itself portrays Judith, the heroine from the Book of Judith, assassinating Assyrian general Holofernes. She is shown as strong and powerful grasping Holofernes by his hair with her sword poised for the downward motion that will spell his demise. The attention of observers to this artwork is immediately drawn to it due to the gilding (coating with gold) of the bronze. This technique creates a shiny reflection from daylight and especially so on sunny days. While age has deteriorated this effect, some gilding remains present to this day.

The difficult bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes was made by Donatello for the Signoria of Florence “. a casting in metal, showing Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes, which was placed in the piazza under one of the arches of their loggia. This is an excellent and accomplished work in which, by the appearance of Judith and the simplicity of her garments, Donatello reveals to the onlooker the woman s hidden courage and the inner strength she derives from God. Similarly, one can see the effect of wine and sleep in the expression of Holofernes and the presence of death in his limbs which, as his soul has departed, are cold and limp. Donatello worked so well that the casting emerged very delicate and beautiful, and then he finished it so carefully that it is a marvel to see. The base, which is a simply designed granite baluster, is also pleasing to the eye and very graceful. Donatello was so satisfied with the results that he decided, for the first time, to put his name on one of his works; and it is seen in these words: DONATELLI OPUS” (Vasari).
1455-60
Bronze, height 236 cm (without base)
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

To his early, free-standing bronze statue of David, Donatello added a late masterpiece of similar quality in the form of his Judith and Holofernes group. There are countless moral, christological and political references in it. A profound inwardness is expressed in the figure of the biblical heroine. In contrast to numerous paintings on this theme, the focus is not on the physical horror of her act. The sacrifice which Judith has made in order to rescue her people appears, rather, to consist of the resulting inner conflict at having to offend against the commandment not to kill. At the moment of her triumph she is also a tragic heroine.
1455-60
Bronze, height 236 cm (without base)
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Donatello judith and holofernes
The anticipated slashing of the general’s neck and overall notion of beheading is emphasized visually in the statue through Judith’s intent gaze and strongly cocked arm wielding her blade ready to strike. In addition, carved into Holofernes’ back, is a medallion structured to appear hanging from his neck has been historically known as a symbol of pride. [5] Many scholars believe that in this instance the necklace is direct symbolism of pride evidenced by Psalms 73:6, which states, “the wicked wear pride like a necklace and violence wraps them round.” [6] It is also argued that the statue is meant to be viewed from the side rather than straight on. By viewing from an angle, the emphasis is on Holofernes’ neck, flanked by both of Judith’s legs underneath her garments, and is the center of attention as Judith pulls her arm back to strike. This would render the inscription “Behold the neck of pride served by the hand of humility” the most accurately depicted. [7]
Both Judith and David are underdogs from Old Testament stories, and are also seen placed in close proximity in the fresco of Santa Maria Antiqua as well as on Lorenzo Ghiberti’s East Baptistry Doors. [2] Judith is considered the symbol of liberty, virtue and victory of the weak over the strong in a just cause. Christian symbolism of Judith reveals her actions over Holofernes to be a victory of virtue, particularly concerning self-control, chastity and humility, as opposed to promiscuity and pride. [2] Her story in the Power of Women topos depicts the weak overcoming the assumed victor in an effort to protect her home. This is symbolic of the city of Florence, who fought to protect their Republic of Florence from foreign powers and to the Medici specifically upholding their pride in the city. [4]

Donatello created the spectacular bronze piece Judith and Holofernes near the end of his life and career. The piece was one of just a few completed after Donatello returned to Florence from Padua between 1457-1464.
It was commissioned by the Medici family and meant to be a companion piece to Donatello’s bronze David in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi garden. Both pieces depict characters that slay tyrants, and both were freestanding statues that were can be viewed in the round. Judith and Holofernes was originally gilded and would have had an amazing reflective quality when viewed in the sunlight. To create this effect the bronze needed to be cast in eleven separate phases.

References:

http://www.wga.hu/html_m/d/donatell/3_late/judith/1judith5.html
http://www.wga.hu/html_m/d/donatell/3_late/judith/1judith.html
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_and_Holofernes_(Donatello)
http://www.donatello.net/judith-and-holofernes.jsp
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_beheading_Holofernes

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