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Judith (Judith with the Head of Holofernes )
Artist: Giorgione
Oil on panel transferred onto oil painting on canvas; Size: 144x66.5 cm; Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes of Giorgione was acquired by the tsarina Catherine II for the Hermitage in 1772, the painting dates from c. 1504 and was probably the door of a cabinet, to judge by the piece of wood that has been inserted to fill what must once have been a keyhole. Attributed to Raphael for its classical composition, the picture shows the influence of Perugino and the heroine's face recalls that of the Virgin in the "Castelfranco Altarpiece," while the atmospheric veiling that blurs the landscape in the distance reveals a familiarity with Leonardo da Vinci. After the battle of Fornovo in 1495, at which the Venetians defeated the army of Charles VIII, Judith came to be identified more and more often with Venice in the guise of Justice. In fact Judith is the biblical heroine who saved her city, Bethulia, under siege by the Assyrian general Holofernes, by seducing him and cutting off his head. A symbol of the Church triumphant over unbelievers and prefiguring Mary's defeat of the devil, Judith is the personification of various virtues and of the strength of God that is made more manifest in the weakness of men: it is a woman, Judith, who frees the Jewish city of Bethulia from the threat of tyranny and an adolescent, David, who kills the giant Goliath, permitting the victory of the Israelites over the Philistines. The woman's bare leg is an allusion to the seduction of her enemy in order to achieve her aim and is taken from engraving of Durer The Doctor's Dream, As in traditional images of triumph, the victor stands over the loser. The heroine rests her foot on the head of Holofernes, a crude image that contrasts strongly with the serenity of the landscape and of the expression on the woman's face. It is likely that Giorgione portrayed himself as the general, just as, a century later, Caravaggio was to give his own features to the Goliath killed by David.

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