ALLORI, Cristofano
(b. 1577, Firenze, d. 1621, Firenze)

Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Oil on canvas, 139 x 116 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

The most famous painting by Florentine artist Cristofano Allori, carried out between 1610 and 1612, became an instant success and was widely copied, due in part to the popularity of the legend of the biblical heroine Judith which the artist interpreted autobiographically; the decapitated head of Holofernes is a self-portrait while his lover Mazzafirra is portrayed in the beautiful face of the young woman, whose extraordinarily luxurious clothing is a direct tribute to the city's thriving textile industry.

This work by Cristofano acknowledges his influence from Caravaggio through the teachings of Artemisia Gentileschi who, in the same period in the service of the Medici family, painted two violent interpretations of Judith for Cosimo II. Cristofano emphasizes the heroine's beauty, the candour of her skin tones and the exquisite quality of her clothing, contrasted against the horror of the decapitated head she holds in her hand. Judith appears proud of her deed and sure of her divine protection.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 17 minutes):
Alessandro Scarlatti: La Giuditta, oratorio, Part I (excerpts)