Today is a two-for-the-price-of-one. Because Allori painted this picture twice. And of course, there is a story. About Allori. In his glory. but it is somewhat whorey. (Juvenile rhyming, I know – but it keeps me young).
Cristofano Allori was an Italian portrait painter, whose style combined the Venetian use of rich colors with the Florentine focus on drawing. He painted Judith twice, the second becoming his most famous work of art and one of the most famous paintings in Italy.
According to his biographer Baldinucci, Allori painted this work in part as an autobiographical account of his love affair with Maria de Giovanni Mazzafirri, which ended badly. The figure of Judith, Baldinucci claimed, resembles ‘La Mazzafirra’, the servant in the background her mother, and the severed head of Holofernes is a portrait of the artist himself. The artist’s inclusion of the inscription in the lower right hand corner of the painting hints at the self-referential nature of the work. When the poet Giovanni Battista Marino saw a version of this painting in Paris, he specifically read the work as autobiographical, commenting that Holofernes is killed twice, first by the darts of Cupid and second by the sword of Judith. (1)
The TMZ version: Mazzafirri was presumably painted from memory, as she had recently, painfully and permanently deserted Allori. (2)
If this account is true, the picture is a classic example of “portrait history” in which real figures are presented as figures from history. Without regard to whether or not this is true, this painting is significant for the erotic tension and sensuality with which the Old Testament heroine is portrayed – a totally novel point of view for the theme of triumph over tyranny.
From the small amount of information at my fingertips, I am forming the idea that Allori was somewhat compulsive-obsessive: a perfectionist. he seemed to never be satisfied with his work, so he painted some of his subjects over and over again. In the apprroximately 7 years between these two renderings, he replaced the face of his former with mistress with another woman – and intensified the detail while keeping it the same. Same composition, same colors, just sharper contrast.
But both compositions display a personal portrait of Judith – not overly bold or violent or heroic, but approachable. If you can get past the severed head.
(1) The Royal Collection: Cristofano Allori, Judith with the head of Holofernes.
(2) About.com, Art History, The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection – Baroque: Judith with the head of Holofernes by Allori