The calm exterior of the static forms push the viewer to contemplate the beauty of a female body which, although nude in a classical fashion, far from resembles any timeless ideal and has a distinctively modern feel. Presumably, the composition is rooted in the natural philosophical concept of the divine nature of beauty, which is spread around the world and which is the only force able to stand up to the dark forces of evil. Judith personifies this beauty. The forces of evil are represented by Holofernes’s severed head on the ground, trampled under Judith’s foot. However, the story of this heroic feat itself interests the artist less than the symbolical and cerebral power of harmony saturating the smooth rhythms of the beautiful female figure. The resoluteness of the contrapposto is mitigated with a smoothly-modelled surface across which the viewer’s eye glides serenely and effortlessly following the movement of light. The turn of the head crosswise to the pivotal axis, rather than emphasizing the sharpness of the gesture, produces an impression that the woman is gazing at something. The touches, the polished sections of the body, the loosely-arranged tresses too feel like rhythmic pauses, and the languorous rhythms of forms convey a general elegiac mood. Even the sword in Judith’s hands appears not as a horrible murder weapon but as an elegant rhythmic continuation of the image; its gilded smooth surface and fluid curves are more suggestive of tranquillity than of danger, of aestheticism rather than deadliness. This impression is enhanced by Judith’s elongated frame and limbs, her figure’s dainty grace with a touch of awkwardness. The interplay of textures – gilded, polished or patinated bronze, and the arabesque pattern of the surface of the stone plinth – provide additional highlights to the image.


Brief annotations to the image

JUDITH is a character from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith in the Old Testament, a Jewish widow who delivered her native city from the Assyrian conquerors. When Nebuchadnezzar’s troops under the command of Holofernes occupied Judaea, the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Bethulia, where the pious and God-fearing young widow Judith lived. Putting on beautiful clothes and taking along her maid, she came to the enemy’s camp, ingratiated herself with Holofernes and, when a propitious moment arrived, decapitated him. Left without a leader, the enemy’s soldiers scattered.