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Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Galizia Fede

(Milan c. 1578 - c. 1630)

The work, signed and dated on the edge of the basin, comes from the legacy of Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati. It depicts the beautiful and courageous Judith, the notorious protagonist of one of the most popular Old Testament episodes. According to the Bible, the woman managed to seduce Holofernes, an Assyrian general, by entering his tent at night, and then beheading him with the help of a servant.

Particularly expert at rendering fabrics and ornaments, a skill learned in the workshop of her father Nunzio, Fede Galizia depicts the young heroine, a symbol of strength and freedom against the oppressor, as she proudly shows off the decapitated head of the enemy, caught in a golden basin by the maidservant.


Object details

Inventory
165
Location
Date
1601
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
141 x 108 cm
Frame

Salvator Rosa, 143 x 117.5 x 7.5 cm.

Provenance

Rome, collection of Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati, 1612 (Inv. Salviati 1612, p. 8, no. 7 in Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1693, room VII, no. 393; Inv. 1700, room X, no. 12; Inv. 1790, room X, no. 35; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 20; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Inscriptions
Nel bordo del catino: "FEDE GALIZIA. F. 1601".
Exhibitions
  • 1958 Zurigo, Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft;
  • 2008 Milano, Castello Sforzesco;
  • 2018-2019 Gand, Musée des Beaux Arts;
  • 2020-2021 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 2021 Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1892 (restauro non documentato);
  • 1922 Francesco Cochetti (piccoli restauri, stuccatura e verniciatura);
  • 1977 Gianluigi Colalucci (restauro completo e rifoderatura);
  • 2001 Paola Mastropasqua (rimozione delle vecchie vernici; restauro della cornice).

Commentary

A work depicting “Judith holding Holofernes’s head with a maid handing her said head, without frame” is mentioned for the first time in Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati’s inventory in 1612. Identified by Paola della Pergola (1959; Id. 1960) with this painting, it was documented as part of the Borghese Collection as early as 1693, but mistakenly described as “A Judith by Lavinia Fontana.” With this attribution, embraced by Carlo Fea (1820) and Xavier Barbier de Mountalt (1870), the canvas was registered both in the Inventario Fidecommissario (1833) and in Giovanni Piancastelli’s records (1891). It was not returned to Fede Galizia’s catalogue until 1893, when, after an undocumented restoration, Adolfo Venturi was able to detect the date and the artist’s signature on the rim of the basin.

This work, which depicts the famous Biblical heroine, her features void of emotion to indicate the inscrutability of the divine design (see Marubbi 2021), is noteworthy for the refinedness of certain details, such as the lavishness of the dress worn by the young woman. The latter speaks to the fame achieved by the workshop of Nunzio Galizia, the artist’s father, which specialized in paintings and miniatures, as well as in the creation of splendid ceremonial gowns and theatre costumes (Berra 1990; Morandotti 2004-05). This was a subject dear to Galizia, who depicted it on many an occasion, beginning with a small canvas, Mannerist in taste, that is possibly her first exploration of the theme and can be dated in the first half of the 1590s (Ferro 2019; Marubbi 2021). 

Our canvas was reproduced five times by the painter, though she was careful to make each reproduction slightly different, adding or eliminating certain details according to the custom of variatio, which she had previously applied in many other circumstances, especially in her many still lifes (see Marubbi 2021).

According to Mario Marubbi (2021), the oldest of the six versions is the one found at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, signed and dated 1596 (for a different opinion, cf. Caroli 1989, Gianneschi 2000, and Ferro 2019), followed by two examples of “Giudit bejewelled with Holofernes’s head in a basin,” both documented in Turin in 1635, one of which is still present in the collection of Palazzo Reale (inv. 5478). The second version differs from the others – with the exception of the Sarasota painting – because it is lacking the pink slip visible on the figure’s leg and Judith is wearing a ring on her left ring-finger, a detail that returns in a copy that is part of a private collection (Caroli 1989, p. 90, pl. 42). The series continues with the Borghese painting and is ideally completed by the canvas preserved at the Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso (Redín Michaus 2016), which belonged to Elisabetta Farnese and is the most recent of the six.  

Antonio Iommelli




Bibliography
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  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 173; 
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