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.
by later hand, on reverse on gesso surface: AN: MONTEGNA
Marks and Labels
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]; 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; purchased c. 1923 by Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; 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.
- Art Treasures of the United Kingdom: Paintings by Ancient Masters, Art Treasures Palace, Museum of Oriental Art, Manchester, 1857, no. 96.
- Exhibition of Venetian Art, The New Gallery, London, 1894-1895, no. 228 (no. 125 of small catalogue).
- Second National Loan Exhibition. Woman and Child in Art, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1913-1914, no. 41A.
- Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1920, unnumbered catalogue.
- Loan Exhibition of Important Early Italian Paintings in the Possession of Notable American Collectors, Duveen Brothers, New York, 1924, no. 22 (no. 40, as Judith Before the Tent of Holofernes, in illustrated 1926 version of catalogue).
- Exhibition of Italian Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1930, no. 186, as Judith before the Tent of Holofernes (no. 187 in commemorative catalogue published 1931; not in souvenir catalogue).
- Exhibition of Venetian Painting from the Fifteenth Century through the Eighteenth Century, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1938, no. 42, repro.
- An Exhibition of Italian Paintings and Drawings, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March-April 1939, no. 26.
- Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculptures from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, May-October 1939, no. 232, repro.
- Berenson and the Connoisseurship of Italian Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979, no. 17, repro.
- Andrea Mantegna, Royal Academy of Arts, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, no. 140, repro., as Judith with the Head of Holofernes after Andrea Mantegna (shown only in London).
- Il Giardino di San Marco: Maestri e Compagni del Giovane Michelangelo, Casa Buonarroti, Florence, 1992, no. 4, color repro.
- Masterpieces in Miniature: Italian Manuscript Illumination from the J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005-2006, not in brochure.
- Mantegna, 1431-1506, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2008-2009, no. 72, repro.
- Mantegna, Musée dy Louvre, Paris, 2008-2009, no. 72, repro.
- Tullio Lombardo and Venetian High Renaissance Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009, not in catalogue.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 162, repro.
- Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 65, repro. (English ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: 65, repro.).
- Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 77, repro.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 6.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 58, color repro., as Judith with the Head of Holofernes.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 10, repro.
- Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 72-74, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 22, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Early Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Three in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 38, color repro.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 23.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 94, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 82.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:70, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 72, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 25-26, fig. 57.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 214, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:296-297, II:pl. 210
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 114, no. 91, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 248, repro.
- Boorsch, Suzanne, et al. Andrea Mantegna. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. London and Milan, 1992: 140.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 26, repro.
- Halpine, Susana M. "An Investigation of Artists' Materials Using Amino Acid Analysis: Introduction of the One-Hour Extraction Method." Studies in the History of Art 51 (1995): 4-53, repro. no. 12.
- Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. "Beheading/Decapitation (Acheiropaiec Heads)." In Helene E. Roberts, ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:122.
- Faxon, Alicia Craig. "Fatal Woman/Femme Fatale." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:319.
- Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 435-443, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 36-37, no. 25, color repro.
- Allen, Denise, with Peta Motture. Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze. Exh. cat. The Frick Collection, New York. London, 2008: 29-30, 39 n. 84, fig. II.8.
- Schumacher, Andreas, et al. Botticelli: Likeness, Myth, Devotion. Exh. cat. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, 2009: 248, fig. 130.
- Pergam, Elizabeth A. The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857: Entrepreneurs, Connoisseurs and the Public. Farnham and Burlington, 2011: 214, fig. 5.3, 312.