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Judith praying

Stella Jacques

(Lyon 1596 –Paris 1657)

The painting, recalled for the first time in the Borghese collection in 1650 as being in “Flemish style”, was attributed by critics to the French artist Jacques Stella, probably painted during his stay in Rome, beginning in 1622-1623.

The scene represented, a prelude to the beheading of Holofernes, has no dramatic or gory hints, but accentuates the sophisticated elegance of the biblical heroine, portrayed while invoking divine help, a moment before killing the Assyrian general. Next to her, three putti play with the sword and, hidden further in the shadows is a the figure of the faithful servant.


Object details

oil on slate
cm 30 x 36

Nineteenth-century frame with palmettes on the four corners, 48 x 54 x 9 cm


Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650, p. 113); Inv. 1693, room XI, no. 120; Inv. 1790, room X, no. 31; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 32; purchased by the Italian State, 1902


  • 2005 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti;
  • 2006-2007 Lione, Musée des Beaux-Arts;
  • 2007 Tolosa, Musée des Augustins.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci (riparazione cornice e piccole reintegrazioni di colore);
  • 1996-1997 Paola Tollo, Carlo Ceccotti (restauro completo del dipinto e della cornice);
  • 2006-2007 Paola Tollo (rimozione ridipinture, verniciatura, reintegrazioni pittoriche).


The first mention of this work dates to 1650, when Iacomo Manilli reported it to be at the Casino di Porta Pinciana and described it as ‘a small painting on Lydian stone with a Judith orant and a sleeping Holofernes’, attributing it to the Flemish school. Shortly after, in the inventory of 1693, the work was attributed to Alessandro Turchi, called l'Orbetto, an attribution rejected in subsequent decades in favour of Elisabetta Sirani (Inv. 1790, room X, no. 31) and Jan Miel (Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 32). In 1893, Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 139) revived the attribution to l'Orbetto, followed by Roberto Longhi, who located the work within the same context, which is to say ‘early seventeenth-century Mannerism in Verona’ (Longhi 1928, p. 200). After a vain attempt by Leo van Puyvelde (1950, p. 136) to attribute the work to Jan Miel, Paola della Pergola (1955, p. 122) published the Judith in the Borghese Gallery catalogue with an attribution to Turchi, situating it among the works made before the painter’s Roman sojourn.

In 1972, Pierre Rosenberg wrote a letter to the Borghese Gallery dated 8 November (see Hermann Fiore 2005, p. 310) proposing an attribution to Jacques Stella, a French artist active in Rome starting in 1622/23 and admired by many refined, powerful collectors for his small, elegant paintings on stone. This attribution was unanimously accepted among scholars (Hermann Fiore 2005, pp. 310–311; Laveissiére 2006, pp. 97–98), with the sole exception of Jacques Thuillier (2006, p. 330), who, in his monograph on the artist in from Lyon, tentatively suggested an attribution to Alessandro Turchi.

The painting, which was probably made between 1623 and 1624 (Hermann Fiore 2005, p. 310; Laveissiére 2006, pp. 97–98), bears clear signs of contact with the leading figures of the Bologna School active in Rome and, as suggested by Herrmann Fiore (2005, p. 310), the influence of the experimental painting of Adam Elsheimer. Specifically, the Borghese Judith shares many aspects in common with the German artist’s candlelight paintings, like his Judith Beheading Holofernes (London, Wellington Museum), which has the same composition as the Roman painting, although Stella chose to depict an unusual moment in the famous Old Testament episode, when the young woman, absorbed in prayer, asked for God’s help before dealing the fatal blow.

The scholar also sought to identify the sources that inspired the painter to treat this unusual theme (2005, p. 310), including Giuditta, written by Federico della Valle in about 1600, and the research on light and shadow carried out by the Theatine priest Matteo Zaccolini, which was known to many artists, including Domenichino and Nicolas Poussin.

A variant on this work, now in a private collection, was published in 2006 by Sylvain Laveissiére (2006, p. 96).

Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 113;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 213;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 139;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 200;
  • L. van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande à Rome, Bruxelles 1950, p. 136;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 122, n. 220;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXX, 1965, p. 211;
  • C. Faccioli, “L’Orbetto” pittore veronese a Roma, in “L’Urbe”, V, 1975, pp. 10-22, pp. 10-23;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 314;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, scheda in Maria de’ Medici: (1573 - 1642): una principessa fiorentina sul trono di Francia, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Museo degli Argenti, 2005), a cura di C. Caneva e F. Solinas, Livorno 2005, pp. 310-311, n. III 46;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 88;
  • J. Thuillier, Jacques Stella (1596-1657), Metz 2006, p. 300;
  • S. Laveissiére, scheda in Jacques Stella (1596 - 1657), catalogo della mostra (Lione, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2006-2007; Tolosa, Musée des Augustins, 2007), a cura di S. Laveissière e I. Dubois, Paris 2006, pp. 97-98, n. 43.