Both of the Judith’s in this pairing are located in the United States – the first in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the second in San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor.
And I feel like it is time to let some other observers do the talking.
Judith, who is adorned “so as to allure the eyes of all men that should see her” (Judith 10:4, Apocrypha), demurely rests her arm on the severed head of Holofernes, her people’s enemy. Her fantastically elaborate costume is characteristic of Cranach’s courtly mannerism. Cranach painted several versions of the apocryphal Old Testament heroine. Here, he represented Judith as one of his typically delicate, blonde women, whose circumspect expression contrasts sharply with the heavy sword in her right hand and the bluntly lifeless head resting under her left. The goriness of the severed neck must have offended the sensibilities of an owner of the painting, because it was concealed with an extra layer of beard, which was removed by a restorer after the Museum acquired the work (1).
Curious. The observer did not mention the foo-foo feathers in her hat.
This is one of the few works credited to Hans Cranach, the oldest son of the Elder. Hans appeared to be a promising artist but died at the age of 24. The title implies that this is a portrait of a patron who wanted to be depicted as Judith.
It falls into one of my favourite art historical areas – paintings and sculptures interpreting their commissioner as a mythological or historical figure. I’m fascinated with this kind of role-play, where the subject is portrayed in terms that immediately become hyperbolic in nature. It’s one thing to have oneself painted in armour or to play dress up, but it’s another thing entirely to wear the mantle of a whole other person.
What I like the most about this particular interpretation is that there’s such a huge disparity between the figure of the woman and the severed head of Holofernes. I like to think that the painter was not particularly interested in his subject, but that he was interested and fascinated by the severed head instead. She seems bored, staring off into space – the eyes of the head are more filled with feeling. My other thought is that the client was so picky that the portrait of the woman was reduced to mediocrity by some kind of editing by committee (2).
I concur that this is one of the most emotionless Judith’s from the Cranach collection. While the other Judith‘s gaze directly at the viewer, this model stares into the corner – slouching. I have seen that look before …
Oh! Now it is clear. This is obviously the patron’s teenage daughter who did not want a portrait in the first place, and now she is in a pout through the sitting. Gawd, I can’t believe they made me do this. So lame, I look like a such a loser. Why wouldn’t they just let me be Salome?
So now I wonder who is the stand-in for Holofernes? She probably is imagining it is her father.
(1) Lucas Cranach the Elder: Judith with the Head of Holofernes (11.15) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
(2) Marshall Astor, “Another Excuse to Post a Severed Head,” December 17th, 2007, http://www.marshallastor.com