(b. ca. 1386, Firenze, d. 1466, Firenze)
Judith and Holofernes1455-60
Bronze, height 236 cm (without base)
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
To his early, free-standing bronze statue of David, Donatello added a late masterpiece of similar quality in the form of his Judith and Holofernes group. There are countless moral, christological and political references in it. A profound inwardness is expressed in the figure of the biblical heroine. In contrast to numerous paintings on this theme, the focus is not on the physical horror of her act. The sacrifice which Judith has made in order to rescue her people appears, rather, to consist of the resulting inner conflict at having to offend against the commandment not to kill. At the moment of her triumph she is also a tragic heroine.
In his Judith and Holofernes group, Donatello created an impressive example of his creative power, unbroken and unconventional despite his advancing years. Conceived as a fountain sculpture, the work is not constructed to be looked at from any one predetermined point of view. The complex network of references and the cleverness of the artistic arrangement only become apparent when walking around the entire piece. While Donatello is occasionally credited with producing the first autonomous, free-standing sculptures since classical times, where his Judith is concerned this reputation can be extended to include what was probably the earliest figural group to be devised as a truly three-dimensional work in concept and content.