(formerly attributed to ANDREA DEL BRESCIANINO and to Gerino from Pistoia)
Judith with the head of Holofernes
Oil on canvas, 104 x 86 cm
Milan, Giorgio Baratti Collection
Pleased to have accomplished her mission Judith flaunts the severed head of Holofernes, General of the Assyrians, who were besieging the Jewish town of Bethulia. The biblical story recounts that, after having pretended to be a lover of the enemy soldier and having got him drunk, she beheaded him and with the help of the maidservant managed to escape at night, hiding the macabre trophy in a sack. The painting presents the Jewish heroine as if she were in front of her people, standing on a balcony. The marble parapet shows the Latin inscription Mater Patrie, perhaps so as to not confuse her with the iconographic counterpart of Salome with the head of John the Baptist.
On the balustrade there is a basin, that collects the blood dripping from the head of Holofernes. The painter has depicted him enraged and stern, covered with long hair and a particularly thick beard. Judith is richly dressed, still holding the sword in her hand and has a hint of a smile of triumph, while in the shadows behind her the handmaid is intent on turning off the light, as if the two women had just arrived at the square in Bethulia.
This precious Panel has been attributed in the past to some important artists from Tuscany. The names of Andrea Del Brescianino from Siena and Gerino from Pistoia have been put forward and a photo from the Zeri Foundation classifies it as the work of an anonymous artist from Pistoia in the first half of the 16th century.
This is not the context to fathom attributive issues, but I believe we must look for the author from among the previous opinions, tracking the still mysterious younger years of Andrea Piccinelli, also known as Brescianino, and possible relationships with the art scene in Pistoia at that time.
However, the high quality of the work and the heraldic and narrative charm that the scene transmits remain undisputable. While observing the figure of the heroine carry out an almost emblematic task, the choice of the author to include the maidservant intent on domestic issues is true genius and anticipates some of the nocturnal contexts typical of Caravaggio’s naturalism. The result is full of antinomies, courtly and fantastic, dignified and truculent, icy and sentimental, as only the best artistic expressions from the early 16th century can be.
Massimo Pulini
Bibliography: unpublished
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