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Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Influenced by the humanist and artistic ideas emanating from Renaissance Italy, François I, king of France from 1515 to 1547, became a great patron of the arts. He invited many Italian artists to France, including Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio. These artists’ Mannerist style proved highly influential in France and became associated in particular with the château of Fontainebleau, François’s primary residence.

The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s painting bears the hallmarks of the French Mannerist style with its bright palette and elongated figures. Although ostensibly depicting the biblical heroine Judith holding the decapitated head of the Assyrian general Holofernes, Judith’s direct gaze at the viewer and her sumptuous jewelry indicate that this may be a portrait of a noblewoman. Thomas Jefferson Bryan, an American collector who acquired this painting in France prior to 1853, believed the painting depicted Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of François’s successor, Henry II. Although Bryan’s identification cannot be confirmed, it is known that Diane, who was famed for her beauty, was portrayed by several artists. On the other hand, recent technical analysis has revealed the painting’s underdrawing, which depicts a less conventionally attractive woman. Perhaps as the artist worked on the painting, he adjusted her features to conform to ideal standards of beauty.

School of Fontainebleau
French, 16th century
Judith with the Head of Holofernes
ca. 1530 (?)
Oil on panel
39 x 27 ¼ in. (99.1 x 69.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Thomas T. Solley Memorial, 76.14.1