National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

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Andrea Mantegna
Paduan, c. 1431 - 1506
(Possibly Giulio Campagnola)
Venetian, 1482 - after 1514
Judith with the Head of Holofernes
c. 1495/1500, tempera on panel
painted surface: 30.1 x 18.1 cm
overall size: 30.8 x 19.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Widener Collection
Image: Andrea Mantegna or Follower (Possibly Giulio Campagnola)
Judith with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1495/1500
Widener Collection

Mantegna used a prominent pseudo-Arabic inscription on a silken tent as a sign that his scene takes place in the Holy Land during the biblical era. Devout and beautiful, the Hebrew widow Judith has delivered her people by beguiling the enemy general, Holofernes. Invited into his tent, she beheaded him after he fell into a drunken stupor.

Islamic manuscripts illustrate numerous luxurious ceremonial tents, decorated with patterned textiles, and Arabic inscriptions. Sumptuous Islamic tents had come to Europe as diplomatic gifts or battle trophies since the time of Charlemagne in the ninth century. In 1487 ambassadors from the sultan of Egypt presented Florence's Lorenzo de' Medici with "a beautiful and large striped tent in a Moresque style." Because Mantegna's small field tent also resembles canopies fashionable in Italy for marital beds, it emphasized the erotic content of his story.

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