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Judith and Holofernes

Giorgio Vasari, Italian, 1511–1574
Oil on panel
Made in
Italy, Europe
Current Location
On View, Gallery 236E
42 1/2 x 31 3/8 in. (108 x 79.7 cm)
Credit Line
Friends Fund and funds given in honor of Betty Greenfield Grossman
Public Domain
Object Number
The biblical heroine Judith’s strong arms and angled shoulders create lively diagonal lines that enhance her exaggerated musculature. Judith came to the rescue when General Holofernes and the Assyrian army laid siege to her city of Bethulia. Boldly infiltrating the Assyrian camp, Judith dined with Holofernes and, once he was drunk, she beheaded him with the help of her maid, Abra. Vasari used a pose copied from Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, portraying Judith as a physically powerful woman, a visible indication of her inner courage.
c.1554 -
Antonio Bracci, Florence and Rovezzano, Italy [1]

Incontri Collection, Florence and Volterra, Italy [2]

- 1823
Morton Collection

In auction, "A Catalogue of a Genuine Collection of Curious Old Italian Pictures, Recently Brought from the Continent," at Squibb & Son, London, England, November 27, 1823, lot no. 102 [3]

William Hallsborough Gallery (Richard Herner), London, England, acquired from an unnamed dealer [4]

by 1976 - 1982
P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, England, transferred from Richard Herner [5]

1982 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. [6]

[1] Vasari notes the commission of the painting for Bracci in his account book: "I mention that at the end of the year [1554] I finished one of those painted panels which shows a Judith who is cutting off the head of Holofernes, large as life, which was given to Messer Antonio Bracci whom I asked to give 12 scudi" [del Vita, Alessandro. "Il libro delle Ricordanze di Giorgio Vasari," Rome, 1938, p. 73; Vasari, Georgio. "Das literarische nachless." Munich: Georg Müller, 1930; reprinted Hildesheim, New York: G. Olms, 1982, pp. 858, 871].

[2] On the reverse of the painting is the Incontri family's seal of an upside-down crown, three fleur-di-lis, and two rampant lions in profile separated by a diagonal band. It was suggested by Dr. Luigi Borgia that "the seal, probably of the eighteenth-century, is that of an unknown prelate of the Florentine family, Incontri, with the cross of the Order of Stephen of Pisa" [email from Alessandro Cecchi on behalf of Dr. Borgia dated May 7, 2004, SLAM document files]. The same seal ascribed to the Incontri family is also illustrated in the "Enciclopedia Storico-Nobiliare Italiana." The details regarding the Incontri's ownership remain unknown. According to the "Enciclopedia Storico-Nobliare Italiana" (1981), the Incontri family were originally from Volterra, a town outside of Florence, where they were politically active beginning in the 15th century. By the 17th century, Attilio Incontri had become secretary to the Granduke Ferdinand I, eventually becoming "il Principe" for the Order of Saint Stephan in Austria. In 1665, the Granduke conferred the title of Marquis of Monteverde and Canneto to Attilio's son, Ferdinando, who was active in the Senate. Seventy-six years later, Francesco Gaetano Incontri (d.1781) became the Archbishop of Florence in 1741. The appointment of Francesco Gaetano Incontri to Archbishop further corroborates Dr. Borgia's suggestion that the seal belongs to an eighteenth-century prelate and the Incontri's ownership during the18th century ["Enciclopedia Storico-Nobiliare Italiana," Vol. III, Milan, 1981, p. 684-85].

[3] According to handwritten notes in an annotated copy of the 1823 sales catalogue and the Getty Provenance Index, the painting belonged to the Morton collection. In the sales catalogue, a description of the painting is not given and is listed simply as "Judith." The details of Morton's acquisition of the painting or the purchaser's name was not mentioned ["A Catalogue of a Genuine Collection of Curious Old Italian Pictures, Recently Brought from the Continent," Squibb & Son, London, England, November 27, 1823, lot no. 102, p. 7].

[4] The painting was bought by Richard Herner of William Hallsborough Gallery, shortly before he joined Colnaghi in 1976. He acquired it from a "small dealer, one of a group of Italians who worked as 'runners' for the more established galleries." The painting was then transferred to Colnaghi, where Herner took up a new position [fax from Richard Herner, dated November 13, 2002, SLAM document files]. Correspondence from Tim Warner-Johnson of Colnaghi indicates that they purchased the painting from "Hallsborough," without giving any further provenance information [email dated November 12, 2002, SLAM document files]. In 1976 the painting was exhibited at Colnaghi's ["Italian Paintings 1550-1780," Colnaghi & Co., London, 1976, cat. no. 1].

[5] See note [4].

[6] Minutes of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, February 16, 1982.
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