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
Possibly Charles I, King of England [1600-1649]; 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.
Associated NamesAgnew & Sons, Ltd., Thomas
Charles I, King of England
Duveen Brothers, Inc.
Hamilton, Carl W.
Pembroke, George Augustus, 11th Earl of
Pembroke, George Robert Charles Herbert, 13th Earl of
Pembroke, Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of
Pembroke, Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of
Pembroke, Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of
Pembroke, Philip Herbert, 5th Earl of
Pembroke, Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of
Pembroke, Reginald Herbert, 15th Earl of
Pembroke, Robert Henry Herbert, 12th Earl of
Pembroke, Sidney Herbert, 14th Earl of
Pembroke, Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of
Pembroke, Willaim Herbert, 3rd Earl of
Pembroke, William Herbert, 6th Earl of
Widener, Joseph E.
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