My trip to The Dayton Art Institute re-envigorated my work on this blog and the pursuit of All Things Judith. I honestly thought I had exhausted the catalog of depictions of Judith – at least those from the before 2010. But I was wrong, and I am happy to be wrong (n this case only): there is more Judith to be found.
And some of it is not so far away.
In Judith Goes Exploring (I), I mused about a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to view Titian’s “Judith with the head of Holofernes” and Gentileshi’s “Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes.” But somehow I missed this statuette by Antonio del Pollaiuolo.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo was a Renaissance artist in Florence – painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith – which leads me to ponder both the Renaissance and Florence and where he fit in with the other artists of his time period. It is said the Renaissance began in Florence in the 14th century, spurred by a melting pot of factors including the unique political, social and civic aspects of Florence and the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici. The renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman aesthetics led to a humanistic and rational approach to literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, and religion – the focus turning to realism. One of the major masterpieces of the Early Renaissance are the bronze doors of the Flofence Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti that became famous from their unveiling and influenced subsequent artistic expression. And Pollaiuolo is part of this masterpiece, training in Ghiberti’s workshop along with other rising artists of the time: Donatello, Masolino, Michelozzo, and Uccello.
Of course, Donatello went on to produce his sublime David (c.1440s) and vicious Judith and Holofernes (1457–64). In fact, Pollaiuolo’s statuette has much in common with Donatello’s life size bronze, in terms of her flowing robes and the arm raised with the fachion. But Pollaiuolo’s Judith is minus the dying Holofernes at her feet and appears to be in a better mood with a slight smile on her face.
Perhaps there is a reason for her pleasant expression. Roger J. Crum, in The Sword Of Judith (Brine, Ciletti, and Lähnemann, 2010) surmises that – while David became the public face of Florence’s patriotism – while Judith was essentially back to her domestic life.
Whether representing the act of killing Holofernes, or literally showing a subsequent return to Bethulia, Florentine representations of Judith all variously imply or directly reference the eventual return to domestication of the heroine … Florentine images of Judith were predominantly private and domestic objects. With the exception of Ghiberti’s representation of Judith on the Gates of Paradise, which was obviously for public display, Donatello’s celebrated bronze group, several examples from Botticelli and his circle, a bronze statuette by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, and two engravings attributed to Baccio Baldini all come from the private sphere or were clearly intended for reception in non-public, intimate environments.
So this Judith becomes a household object – something to be a semblance and reminder of feminine virtues. And if you want your Judith to represent a Happy Homemaker, this particular statuette would fit the part nicely.
More reason for me to find time for that trip to Detroit!