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Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Likely commissioned by the Piccolomini family of Siena, this portrait of an ancient heroine was originally part of a series of eight depicting famous men and women from antiquity. The other portraits show full-length figures standing in elegant contrapposto before landscapes with scenes from their lives. This panel, depicting a half-length figure, was likely cut down after the eight portraits were dispersed to the art market. The figure here has traditionally been identified as Judith, the Old Testament heroine who beheaded the Assyrian general Holofernes. More recently, however, it has been suggested that she is Tomyris, queen of the Massagetai, a Central Asian tribe. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Tomyris decapitated the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, after his army was defeated.

Attributed to Matteo di Giovanni
Italian (Sienese), ca. 1430–1495
Judith with the Head of Holofernes or Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai
ca. 1491–95
Oil on panel
24 ¾ x 21 in. (62.9 x 53.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, The Samuel H. Kress Collection, 62.163