(b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)

Judith Leaving the Tent of Holofernes

Tempera on panel, 36,5 x 20 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The stylistic change undergone by Botticelli's art is demonstrated especially vividly through a comparison of his Judith Leaving the Tent of Holofernes, from the late 1490s, with the work of similar subject from some thirty years previously.

In the earlier work, the picture was dominated by movement and lively gracefulness; now, concentrated pictorial composition and simplicity come to the fore. With the former picture, the observer's thoughts were distracted by the detailed presentation of the figures and the background; in the later version, Botticelli has left out everything that could divert attention from the principal figure, from Judith herself. Thus, Abra the maid no longer appears next to Judith, but is relegated to the dark opening of the tent in the background. At the same time, Botticelli has reduced everything of a decorative nature to a minimum. Background and earth appear merely as a monotone surface, while the dark, unadorned garments remind one that the elegant flow of folds found in the bright, richly ornamented dress of the earlier portrayals is absent here. In this work too, the form of Judith herself strikes us as having overlong proportions, such as strangely distort her and present a crass contrast to the gracefulness of the earlier Judith. Botticelli was evidently less concerned in this late phase with entertaining the observer, concentrating rather on a form of his pictorial subject matter which would edify and instruct.

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