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The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Visual Arts

17. Donatello’s Judith as the Emblem of God’s Chosen People

Sarah Blake McHam

Texte intégral

1This essay addresses the different symbolic resonances that Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (Fig. 17.1) acquired when, in 1495, the newly reinstated Florentine Republic appropriated it from the Palazzo Medici, changed the inscriptions on the base, and transferred the ensemble to the ringhiera, the elevated platform that fronts the wall of the Palazzo della Signoria, the city’s center of government. These events, which occurred less than a year after the Medici family had been expelled from power, reveal that the regime recognized that the statue could be converted into a potent political symbol of its ideology.

  • 1 For a summary of the problems about the commissions and their dates, see Sarah Blake McHam, ”Donat (...)

2On the most obvious level, the confiscation of a statue that had been prominently displayed in the garden of the Palazzo Medici was a sign of the new Republic’s triumphant termination of Medici rule. Republican triumph also attended the simultaneous removal to the town hall of Donatello’s bronze David (Fig. 17.2), a statue that had stood in the Palazzo Medici’s courtyard near the Judith in the adjacent garden. Although the circumstances of their commissions are still somewhat unclear, the two statues had constituted a de facto pair: they were the only two modern free-standing sculptures displayed in the outdoor spaces of the Medici Palace for three decades, from ca. 1464/6–1495.1

  • 2 Ibid., pp. 32–47.

3The reinstated Republic had further reasons to move the sculptures to the commune’s center. Although the inscriptions the statues had borne in the Palazzo Medici were effaced, they both still recalled their former associations, which I argued in a previous article emphasized the two Old Testament heroes as tyrant-slayers.2

17.1. Donatello, Judith and Holofernes, 1457–64. Palazzo della Signoria, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource.

17.2. Donatello, bronze David, late 1430s?. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

  • 3 Ibid., p. 32.

4Originally, both bronzes evoked republican themes that the Medici aimed to embrace and co-opt. The associated meanings of the Judith and Holofernes and the David were signaled by their related inscriptions. The one once on the David read: ”The victor is whoever defends the fatherland. God crushes the wrath of an enormous foe. Behold! A boy overcame a great tyrant. Conquer, O citizens!”3

  • 4 Ibid., p. 34.

5David’s identification as a tyrant-slayer was corroborated by the statue’s obvious relation to Donatello’s earlier commission of the same theme, his marble David, which an earlier republican regime had ordered installed in the Palazzo della Signoria in 1416. It was inscribed: ”To those who bravely fight for the fatherland God will offer victory even against the most terrible foes.”4 Such a political interpretation of David was unusual. Although the Old Testament figure’s identity as a victorious warrior has become familiar through such later sculptures as Michelangelo’s colossal David, we overlook that before Donatello’s marble sculpture almost every representation of David interpreted him in other ways, as a king, prophet, writer of the Psalms, or ancestor of Christ.

6Unlike David, Judith had never been associated with Florence, even though the textual source, the apocryphal Old Testament Book of Judith, lent itself to a political interpretation: it recounted the tale of Judith’s salvation of the Jews from the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to inspire Jewish patriotism. In the medieval period Jewish and Christian writers alike interpreted Judith as a moral, religious, and political heroine. In Christian symbolic thought her victory over Holofernes was elaborated as the triumph of virtue, specified variously as self-control, Chastity, or Humility, over the vices of Licentiousness and Pride. Associations with these virtues meant that Judith came to be regarded as a type of the Virgin and of the Church.

7Donatello’s depiction of Judith and Holofernes continues these traditions. Judith’s virtue is indicated by the demure clothing and veil that cover her from head to toe while Holofernes, in contrast, is almost naked. His nudity, drunkenness, and the cushion on which he is propped identify Holofernes as a figure of Lust and Licentiousness whereas Judith represents Chastity. The medallion, which has swung around to Holofernes’ slumping bare back, depicts a galloping horse, symbolic of Pride or Superbia, the vice traditionally defeated by Humility, represented by Judith. Her valiant act of decapitating Holofernes is dramatically emphasized by Donatello, who created the first (and only) representation in monumental sculpture of this moment. Equally unprecedented is Donatello’s narration of the actual killing. The moral meaning of the decapitation is underscored by the inscription recorded on the base while the statue was in the Palazzo Medici’s garden: ”Kingdoms fall through luxury [sin], cities rise through virtues. Behold the neck of pride severed by the hand of humility.”

  • 5 Ibid., pp. 36–41.

8I contended that the David and the Judith and Holofernes drew on descriptions of the Athenian statue group called the Tyrannicides and on the writings of the twelfth-century English theologian John of Salisbury to create a visual rhetoric insinuating a controversial, self-serving message. They were to suggest that the Medici’s role in Florence was akin to that of venerable Old Testament tyrant slayers and saviors of their people, symbolically inverting the growing chorus of accusations that they had become tyrants.5

  • 6 See Andrew Butterfield, The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio (New Haven, CT: Yale University Pr (...)

9The removal of Donatello’s bronze David to the government center complemented the political associations of Donatello’s own marble David situated on the palace’s second floor and Verrocchio’s bronze David, commissioned by the Medici family, but sold to the government it controlled. Verrocchio’s David was placed on the landing just outside the priors’ audience hall when that space was renovated in 1476.6 These three sculptures were soon joined by the colossal marble that the Republic commissioned from Michelangelo (1501–4), installed on the ringhiera.

10The decision to create a cohort of four sculptures of David inside and outside the palace makes clear the important role that Old Testament characters played in the identity the republican government was constructing for itself. In part the link with David evoked the regime’s connection with the earlier period of republican rule in Florence. The statues connoted, however, more than continuity with the past and victory over the Medici. Most important, the depiction of the youthful David served to symbolize the Republic’s desire to present the city under its rule as chosen by God, just like David and his people, and protected against every powerful enemy.

11In Judith’s new situation in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, the statue fulfilled the same purpose. The statue’s base was reinscribed, ”Exemplum sal[utis] pub[licae]. Cives pos[uerunt] MCCCCXCV” (An exemplar of the public good. The citizens installed it here in 1495). It identified Judith’s deed as an exemplary model and emphasized that a government in which the citizenry fully participated had decided on its placement. It implied the Republic’s unified endorsement of Judith’s divine role as a savior of Florence. The new inscription evoked a stock Roman republican phrase, well known in the Renaissance through Cicero’s maxim ”the safety, security, or well-being of the public is the highest law” (salus publica suprema lex esto), linking the Florentine Republic to its most illustrious precedent.

12Both statues’ messages, that God’s agent would be victorious over tyranny, were not only directed against the recently overthrown Medici regime (which still had many adherents), but they also symbolized the Republic’s future direction. Specifically militant meanings associated with Judith were new in late-fifteenth-century Florence, but her imagery had a political history elsewhere that must be reviewed to understand the statue’s transfer to the ringhiera.

  • 7 Mayke de Jong, ”Exegesis for an Empress,” in Esther Cohen and Mayke De Jong (eds.), Medieval Trans (...)

13Early patristic writers had remarked not only on Judith’s feminine virtues of chastity, humility, and piety; some had emphasized that she embodied a bravery and wisdom surpassing her gender that made her a model of statesmanship. The key figure in this political interpretation is Hrabanus Maurus, the Abbot of Fulda, who, in the early 830s, presented the Carolingian empress Judith with commentaries he had written on the Book of Esther and the Book of Judith.7 In an accompanying letter, he praised the empress for having already conquered most of her enemies by her prudent decisions and deeds and offered his commentaries as a helpful source of further sagacious and inspiring counsel. The empress, the second wife of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious and the mother of Charles, the future king of the west Frankish kingdom, had been accused of adultery and twice sent into a monastery to do penance. The controversy had caused such dissension within Charlemagne’s family that the dynasty was imperiled.

14Hrabanus Maurus cited Jerome’s preface to the Book of Judith as the source of his interpretation of Judith as a model of prudence. In the intervening four centuries since Jerome had composed the Vulgate, no Christian writer had written a commentary on the Book of Judith, perhaps because the book was not a universally acknowledged part of the Christian apocrypha. The abbot’s commentary helped to establish it in the Christian canon. Although Hrabanus Maurus alluded to theological authorities, he elaborated his own readings. He praised Judith and Esther above all for the mental vigor, maturity, and prudence that had allowed them to vanquish their spiritual and physical foes, and acclaimed them as apposite models for both male or female rulers.

  • 8 McHam, ”Donatello’s David,” pp. 39–41.

15His political interpretation of Judith had an important afterlife in Christian thought. In the twelfth century it encouraged John of Salisbury to cite her as an exemplar of justified tyrannicide in the Policraticus, his widely circulated treatise that inspired righteous citizens to a number of assassinations in later centuries.8 Hrabanus Maurus’s commentary also led to a less specific reading of Judith as a symbol of just punishment not only for tyrants, but for other criminals against the state.

  • 9 Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor, ed. Spurgeon Baldwin and Paul Barrette (Tempe, AZ: Arizona (...)
  • 10 Ibid., pp. xii–xiv. Latini abridged the text as a poem in Italian; see Brunetto Latini, Il Tesoret (...)

16The evolution of this alternative emphasis can be traced in text and imagery; given our focus, analysis is limited to Tuscany. The treatise Li Livres dou Tresor, written in the 1260s by Brunetto Latini, is crucial. Latini, forced to leave his native Florence when the Holy Roman Emperor Manfred defeated the city’s Guelphs at Montaperti (1260), spent the next seven years in France, returning when news reached him of Manfred’s death and the Ghibelline defeat in Florence. Throughout the rest of his life, he served the newly established Florentine Republic, modeled on that of ancient Rome, and was mentor to Dante.9 Latini’s book, a compendium of science, ethics, rhetoric, and practical politics, was often recopied and translated.10

  • 11 Latini, Li Livres, p. 37.
  • 12 Ibid., pp. 32–33.
  • 13 Ibid., p. 153: Latini prepared to explain his ethical system with the words ”ci commence Etique Ar (...)
  • 14 Ibid., pp. 152–53. Following his conceit that his book was a treasure chest of jewel-like virtues, (...)
  • 15 Ibid., pp. 382–83, for Latini’s statement that government officials must punish or absolve crimina (...)
  • 16 Quentin Skinner, ”Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher,” Proceedings of the Br (...)
  • 17 Latini, Li Livres, pp. 288–89.
  • 18 Ibid., pp. 363–91.

17Book one dealt with world history, which Latini began at the Creation and summarized in brief biographies of its heroes, including Judith (”the valiant woman ... stronger than any man”),11 David, and Solomon.12 Latini dedicated the second book to the ”active” or cardinal virtues, as they dictated ethics. In his opening words, he alerted the reader that his authority was Aristotle,13 but to support his theoretical analysis, he cited other experts, among whom Cicero, Seneca, and Solomon were favorites. Latini never made analogies to specific persons who exemplified the virtues. As a result, he did not engage the Christian tradition of Judith as a model of prudence, even though, like Aristotle, he stressed prudence’s primacy, because its control of rational thought ”illuminated” the path to fortitude, temperance, and justice, the other virtues.14 Latini went beyond Aristotle, however, to address the punishment of vices and crimes.15 The Greek had not considered man’s primordial nature, leaving Latini to depend on Seneca, and other pagan and Christian Latin authors.16 He concluded that ”superbia,” or overweening pride, was the prime cause of the sins considered crimes in society.17 Latini adhered to his principle of abstract argumentation and did not adduce historical examples. Latini applied his theoretical analysis to practical ends. He contended that the commune was the ideal government. Administered by an elected leader and representatives, chosen for their virtues, above all prudence, they would serve to uphold the common good through the rule of law and just punishment accorded wrong-doers.18

  • 19 Ibid., pp. 239–41.
  • 20 In the fifteenth century, Judith’s attribute, the decapitated head of Holofernes, continued to be (...)
  • 21 See Skinner, ”Ambrogio Lorenzetti,” pp. 1–56.

18Between 1338 and 1340 this system of ”good government” was immortalized in fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti on the walls of Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, and contrasted to the rule of a diabolic tyrant on the adjacent wall through allegorical personifications and cityscape vistas. The painter portrayed a massive leader who epitomizes the ”common good” paramount in his administration of the commune, flanked by personifications of the active virtues. Prudence sits beside him in the place of honor on his right; Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, are nearby. The seated figure of Justice holds a sword and the decapitated head of a bearded man rests on her lap, suggesting Judith and Holofernes. On the same bench sits Magnanimity, a secondary virtue in Latini’s system,19 and Peace, the necessary condition for states to flourish. Another personification of Justice (Fig. 17.3), the second-largest figure in the hieratically arranged allegory, balances him on the fresco’s other side. She holds her traditional sword and scales, which are connected by ties to the city’s elected officials. On Justice’s scale, an angel epitomizing divine retribution punishes bound criminals by decapitation while another rewards good citizens. Although her action evokes Judith’s slaying of Holofernes, and the pictorial allegory’s emphasis on justice proceeding from prudence recalls Judith as a model of that virtue, the figure’s wings identify her as an angel.20 This first monumental visualization of ”distributive justice,” the execution of fair punishment, is directly inspired by Latini’s treatise, whereas most other aspects of the program have their roots in Aristotelian thought.21

17.3. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Justice, from Allegory of the Good Government, 1338–40. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY.

  • 22 See Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, ”Dante and the History of Art: The Case of a Tuscan Commune Part (...)
  • 23 The thirty-one heroes range from Noah to Constantine the Great. The only other woman included is t (...)

19The third Tuscan landmark in the evolution of Judith’s political identity occurred in 1464, about when the Medici commissioned Donatello’s Judith for their palace garden. It is a fresco by an anonymous artist on the walls of the government center in Lucignano, a small subject city in the Sienese territory (Fig. 17.4).22 There she joined an extensive cycle of mainly male pagan, biblical, and historical figures, all identified by accompanying inscriptions.23 The ensemble confronts the Madonna, Child, and Saints on the opposite wall. The combination repeats the arrangement and iconography of Siena’s town hall where Simone Martini’s Maestà is on the walls of a room next to that decorated by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes contrasting the virtues and benefits of good government’s just rule with the vices and mayhem of tyranny.

17.4. Anonymous, Fresco of Judit Ebrea, Aristotle, and Solomon, ca. 1463–65. Palazzo del Comune, Lucignano, Italy. Photo credit: Elena Ciletti.

  • 24 See the description and transcribed inscriptions in Joost-Gaugier, ”Sala del Consiglio,” p. 37.
  • 25 See ibid., pp. 37–38, for this conclusion.
  • 26 Gianpaolo Lomazzo, ”Trattato dell’arte de la pittura,” in Roberto Ciardi (ed.), Scritti sulle arti(...)

20Clearly identified by the inscription ”Iudit Hebrea,” Judith wears a widow’s veil that demurely covers her hair and carries a bloody sword and Holofernes’s bearded head. Judith is isolated on a cove of the room’s barrel vault alongside Aristotle, who opens his book toward viewers so that they can easily discern its inscription, which translates: ”Prudence is the right action.” It is the guiding principle of his Nicomachean Ethics and appropriate to Judith, its Christian exemplar. Solomon, who stands below the pair, is accompanied by the inscription ”Salamon Rex” and partially obliterated verses that underscore his wisdom and prudence in ruling his people.24 This visual articulation of civic justice derives from Dante, who alluded to all the figures in Lucignano’s elaborate cycle.25 I contend that it also evokes the concept of legitimate punishment conceptualized by Dante’s mentor Latini and Lorenzetti’s imagery of it. In the late Cinquecento, Lomazzo described the appropriate tradition of representing Judith at public sites of justice,26 so there are likely other components to the textual and visual development of Judith’s identity as the exemplar of prudence executing all aspects of civic justice. Nevertheless, the cycle in Lucignano crystallizes the connections and demonstrates their vitality in fifteenth-century Tuscany.

21This tradition of Judith’s Christian political interpretation proves that the Republic intended Donatello’s statue to mean more than victory over the Medici, and hence over a regime it deemed tyrannical. It intended the Judith to recall her identity as a model of prudent statesmanship and just punishment, and the role of the first Republic of Florence’s statesman Brunetto Latini in shaping that interpretation.

  • 27 Matthias Krüger, ”Wie man Fürsten empfing. Donatellos Judith und Michelangelos David im Staatszere (...)
  • 28 Savonarola condensed these constant themes of his sermons in the ”Treatise on the Rule and Governm (...)

22The transfer of Judith accorded as well with themes popularized by the regime’s most influential spokesman, the reactionary Dominican Savonarola, in his stream of sermons and writings.27 Savonarola excoriated Medici rule as an ungodly tyrannical regime. After their ouster from power in 1494, he prescribed the ideal government for the city, a representative government that would guard against tyranny.28 He exhorted Florentines to take up a larger role, which he characterized as their divinely appointed mission to purify Italy from personal sin and clerical corruption. Preaching to overflow audiences, Savonarola railed against tyranny and immorality, assuring his listeners that Florentines could supplant the Jews as God’s chosen people, to whom God would ensure victory over evil, no matter what the odds. Savonarola encouraged them to go beyond cleansing God’s city of Florence to purging God’s temple of enemies like the dissolute Pope Alexander VI Borgia, then reigning in Rome, assuring his audience of God’s support.

17.5. Niccolò Fiorentino, style of (Ambrogio & Mattia della Robbia?): Girolamo Savonarola, Dominican Preacher [obverse]; Italy Threatened by the Hand of God [reverse], ca. 1497. National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection, Washington, DC. Photo credit: © 2008 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

23The preacher typically built series of sermons around books from the Old Testament. He went through them line by line in order to develop moralteachings and prophetic ideas pertinent to his current context. Savonarola favored the books written by the Jewish prophets, implicitly linking his predictions about Florence to their visions of a faithful Israel’s messianic redemption punctuated by dire warnings about disobedience to God and his messengers.

  • 29 The sermon, titled ”Behold, the Sword of the Lord over the Earth Soon and Swiftly,” is translated (...)

24The cycle of sermons he launched in November 1494, days before the Medici were expelled, was based on the Book of Haggai and Psalms. He threatened Florentines into action through references to his vision of God’s sword hanging over them.29 It became his subject in a sermon on the Book of Psalms, delivered the following January. A portrait medal cast ca. 1497 (Fig. 17.5) reveals that the prophecy had become his symbol. Reminding Florentines that three years earlier he had predicted a wind that would shake mountains, Savonarola explained that wind as the French invasion that had already blown over Italian states (like Milan). He cautioned that God’s sword would deliver a punishing blow if Florentines did not heed his vision of the city’s role in the divine plan. Haggai’s prophecies about the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem became the pretext for further pleas that Florentines repent their sins and rebuild Florence as the city of God.

  • 30 The date heads the cycle’s first sermon transcribed in person by Lorenzo Vivuoli;see Girolamo Savo (...)

25Although Savonarola never based a sequence of sermons on the Book of Judith, he alluded to her. I shall focus on the sermons he delivered on the Book of Ezekiel in the Duomo during Advent 1496, about a year after Donatello’s Judith had been transferred to the Palazzo della Signoria.30 Savonarola understood Judith’s connection to Ezekiel: her story and his prophecies were supposed to have occurred during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and Judith’s salvation of the Jews averted another destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and enslavement such as Ezekiel described. The ways in which Savonarola referred to Judith typify the nature of his comments about her and his pattern of analysis.

  • 31 Ibid., 2, pp. 1–16.

26In his twenty-ninth sermon on Ezekiel’s prophecies, Savonarola addressed the verse in Ezekiel 16, ”Confident of your beauty, you have fornicated. ...” Ezekiel was castigating the Jews, or the people of Juda, then exiled in Babylon, for their faith in false prophecies. Threatening God’s wrath, he likened them to dead wood about to be thrown into the fire. He framed his most vitriolic denunciation as a personification of the people, Juda, and lambasted her as a shameless harlot.31

  • 32 Ibid., 2, p. 8.

27Savonarola approached the verse as a metaphor of the wayward self-reliant human who denied God’s supreme power. Beseeching his audience to return to God, he reminded them of his merciful forgiveness and steadfast support, itemizing Old Testament patriarchs like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David, whom God aided despite their faults and lapses of faith. At the end of his all-male list, Savonarola cited Judith and Esther.32 Although he did not elaborate on his reasons for including the two virtuous Jewish women, their identities as unwavering believers and divinely empowered saviors of their people make them antitypes of Ezekiel’s harlot Juda.

17.6. Anonymous, The Martyrdom of Savonarola, 15th century. Museo di S. Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY.

  • 33 Ibid., 2, pp. 23–31.
  • 34 Ibid., 2, pp. 60–61.

28In the next sermon, Savonarola eased into an attack on the Church by reminding his listeners that in the scriptures fornication was often synonymous with idolatry, or false religion.33 Then he took off his gloves, attacking the Church’s luxurious trappings of piety that concealed a godless core. He lambasted her for perverting even the Eucharist. In sermon thirty-two he continued his diatribe about her simony and sins, charging her with becoming the devil. He addressed the Church repeatedly by name, calling her a whore, ”meretrice Chiesa.”34 For Savonarola the Christian Church had become the new harlot Juda, the polar opposite to beautiful and chaste women, namely Judith and Esther, the only two he had mentioned.

17.7. Play of Iudith Hebrea staged in 1518. Title-page. Florence, 1589. National Art Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo credit: Sarah Blake McHam.

29Even after many Florentines rejected Savonarola’s call for a crusade and collaborated in his execution in 1498, on a pyre in front of the Palazzo della Signoria under Judith’s impassive eye (Fig. 17.6), the charismatic preacher’s ideas continued to resonate. His followers went underground, maintaining their allegiance to the Dominican’s ideals as an important, if covert, minority. Following Savonarola’s death, the Medici family seized power from the Republic in 1512, only to be defeated by a new republican regime in 1527, which reasserted Savonarola’s ideology. Once the family crushed that regime in 1530, it controlled the city until 1737.

  • 35 Lorenzo Polizzotto, Children of the Promise. The Confraternity of the Purification and the Sociali (...)

30Several episodes demonstrate Judith’s enduring power as a republican symbol of Florence as the chosen people. Many families who can be identified as closet followers of Savonarola enrolled their sons in the Confraternity of the Purification, a well-established youth organization and one of the most important Florentine societies for the moral edification of young boys. As part of their activities, the boys of the Purification staged a play during Carnival in 1518, Iudith Hebrea, which enacted the Christian interpretation of her story that Savonarola’s sermons had made current in Florence. It was published the following year.35

  • 36 See La Rappresentazione di Iudith Hebrea (Florence: Giovanni Baleni, 1589), unpaginated, a later e (...)
  • 37 Ibid.: Achior, Nebuchadnezzar’s ambassador, explains to Holofernes, ”They have great faith in a Go (...)
  • 38 Ibid.: Ozias, speaking to Judith, called her ”vedovetta santa,” commended her devout faith that co (...)
  • 39 Ibid.: ”You should perceive [in Judith] the most prudent woman ever. ...”
  • 40 Ibid.: ”May you be blessed by God Eternal … for your hard work alone, for your prudence alone. ... (...)
  • 41 Ibid.: ”The Angel gives license. ... There is no need for other teachings. Do penitence and you wi (...)

31The Annunciate Angel opens the play by introducing Judith’s slaying of Holofernes as the exemplary victory over proud, cruel, luxury-loving rulers and a model of the virtuous path to celestial glory, visualized in the woodcut on a later edition’s title page (Fig. 17.7).36 The play dramatized the Book of Judith’s plot in pithy, vivid speeches, beginning with the council of Nebuchadnezzar and his lords extolling his virtues and cleverness in ruling a vast empire. Only the Jews dared repel his advances, citing their allegiance to their God in words akin to Savonarola’s exhortations to Florence.37 When Holofernes was about to force Bethulia’s elders to sue for peace, Judith intervened. Ozias recognized her as a ”saintly widow” and praised her unswerving faith.38 Judith and Holofernes’s subsequent encounter culminated in his praising her to his soldiers, first of all for her great prudence.39 When Judith was about to decapitate him, she called aloud to God, asking him to steady her hand and resolve so that she could kill God’s enemy. When she escaped to Bethulia with Holofernes’ head, Ozias saluted her as a ”woman whom God should bless” because she had saved the Jews by her actions and prudence (governo).40 A description of God’s angel aiding the Jews to destroy Holofernes’s armies followed, and the play concluded with the lesson that the path to such victories lay in penitence.41

  • 42 See Luca Gatti, ”Displacing Images and Renaissance Devotion in Florence: The Return of the Medici (...)

32Shortly before the play was staged, the Medici family had tried to reclaim the sculpture. In 1513, on the anniversary of its return of power, the Signoria, by then a puppet institution under Medici control, decreed that the statues of Judith and of David should be returned to the family. Averardo di Bernardo de’ Medici, the leader of this initiative, argued that the statue of Judith should be handed back to its rightful owners and reinstalled in the Palazzo Medici. The decree was never carried out. The Signoria’s leaderconvinced them that the appropriation might foment rebellion against their nascent regime.42 By this time Donatello’s bronze group had become such a potent symbol of Florence that it was too dangerous to move.

  • 43 The group’s political implications are analyzed by Thomas Hirthe, ”Die Perseus- und Medusa-Gruppe (...)

33The only strategy left open to the Medici was to co-opt its meaning. The most notable maneuver occurred in 1545, when Duke Cosimo, the founder of the revived dynasty, commissioned Cellini to create a sculpture of Perseus and Medusa that was a mirror image of Donatello’s Judith in its material and in the arrangement of slayer and victim, although it reversed their genders.43 Positioned nearby in the Loggia dei Lanzi adjacent to the Palazzo della Signoria, where Donatello’s group had been transferred, the mythological tale and Medicean undertones embodied by Cellini’s bronze were intended to leech away from the Judith any associations with Florence’s defeated Republic and Savonarola’s championing of it as the context for the new city of God.

Notes

1 For a summary of the problems about the commissions and their dates, see Sarah Blake McHam, ”Donatello’s David and Judith as Metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence,” Art Bulletin, 83 (2001), p. 32.

2 Ibid., pp. 32–47.

3 Ibid., p. 32.

4 Ibid., p. 34.

5 Ibid., pp. 36–41.

6 See Andrew Butterfield, The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 204–05.

7 Mayke de Jong, ”Exegesis for an Empress,” in Esther Cohen and Mayke De Jong (eds.), Medieval Transformations: Texts, Power, and Gifts in Context (Leiden: Brill, 2001), pp. 69–100.

8 McHam, ”Donatello’s David,” pp. 39–41.

9 Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor, ed. Spurgeon Baldwin and Paul Barrette (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003), pp. ix–xi.

10 Ibid., pp. xii–xiv. Latini abridged the text as a poem in Italian; see Brunetto Latini, Il Tesoretto, ed. Julia Bolton Holloway (New York: Garland, 1981).

11 Latini, Li Livres, p. 37.

12 Ibid., pp. 32–33.

13 Ibid., p. 153: Latini prepared to explain his ethical system with the words ”ci commence Etique Aristotes.”

14 Ibid., pp. 152–53. Following his conceit that his book was a treasure chest of jewel-like virtues, Latini identified prudence as the primary virtue, the carbuncle that illuminated the night and all other jewels, such as temperance, a sapphire; fortitude, a diamond; and justice, an emerald, in that order; see ibid., pp. 226–38 and 249–61, for further explanation.

15 Ibid., pp. 382–83, for Latini’s statement that government officials must punish or absolve criminals in order to maintain the common good (”la chouse dou comun”).

16 Quentin Skinner, ”Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 72 (1986), pp. 16–20.

17 Latini, Li Livres, pp. 288–89.

18 Ibid., pp. 363–91.

19 Ibid., pp. 239–41.

20 In the fifteenth century, Judith’s attribute, the decapitated head of Holofernes, continued to be subsumed into the personification of Justice who holds it and a sword, as on the tomb of Raffaele Fulgosio (1367–1427), an important law professor and jurist in the Santo, Padua, carved between 1429 and 1431. The figure, which appears alongside Prudence and Charity, is illustrated in Wolfgang Wolters, La Scultura veneziana gotica 1300/1460, 2 vols. (Venice: Alfieri, 1976), 2, figs. 578–80. Significantly, it reappears in a civic context (the large sequence of virtues on the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale), Venice; see ibid., figs. 491–93. I thank Elena Ciletti for reminding me of the relevance of these monuments. Historians have argued whether a number of important later commissions such as Giorgione’s painting (Hermitage, St. Petersburg), usually called Judith, and Titian’s figure once on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venice, should be identified as Judith or Justice, generally arguing against a conflation of their identities. See most recently, Paul Joannides, Titian to 1518; The Assumption of Genius (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 59–68. These naysayers are unaware, however, of the history traced here that justifies the conflation in the context of civic law and justice.

21 See Skinner, ”Ambrogio Lorenzetti,” pp. 1–56.

22 See Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, ”Dante and the History of Art: The Case of a Tuscan Commune Part I: The First Triumvirate at Lucignano,” Artibus et Historiae, 11 (1990), pp. 15–30, and ”Dante and the History of Art: The Case of a Tuscan Commune. Part II: The Sala del Consiglio at Lucignano,” ibid., pp. 23–46. I thank Elena Ciletti for bringing these articles to my attention.

23 The thirty-one heroes range from Noah to Constantine the Great. The only other woman included is the Roman Lucretia.

24 See the description and transcribed inscriptions in Joost-Gaugier, ”Sala del Consiglio,” p. 37.

25 See ibid., pp. 37–38, for this conclusion.

26 Gianpaolo Lomazzo, ”Trattato dell’arte de la pittura,” in Roberto Ciardi (ed.), Scritti sulle arti, 2 vols. (Florence: Marchi & Bertolli, 1974), 2, p. 298.

27 Matthias Krüger, ”Wie man Fürsten empfing. Donatellos Judith und Michelangelos David im Staatszeremoniell der Florentiner Republik,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 71 (2008), pp. 481–96, which also addresses Savonarola’s sermons in regard to these sculptures, appeared too late for me to take it into account.

28 Savonarola condensed these constant themes of his sermons in the ”Treatise on the Rule and Government of the City of Florence” (1498?), translated in Anne Borelli and Maria Pastore Passaro (eds.), Selected Writings of Girolamo Savonarola. Religion and Politics, 1490–1498 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 176–206.

29 The sermon, titled ”Behold, the Sword of the Lord over the Earth Soon and Swiftly,” is translated in ibid., pp. 59–76.

30 The date heads the cycle’s first sermon transcribed in person by Lorenzo Vivuoli;see Girolamo Savonarola, Prediche sopra Ezekiele, ed. Roberto Ridolfi, 2 vols. (Rome: Angelo Belardetti, 1955), 1, p. 3.

31 Ibid., 2, pp. 1–16.

32 Ibid., 2, p. 8.

33 Ibid., 2, pp. 23–31.

34 Ibid., 2, pp. 60–61.

35 Lorenzo Polizzotto, Children of the Promise. The Confraternity of the Purification and the Socialization of Youths in Florence, 1427–1785 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 141–42, claimed Judith was a symbol of Divine Justice in popular Florentine political discourse, citing the largely unpublished legal documents called ”protests for justice.” Emilio Santini, ”La protestatio de iustitia nella Firence Medicea del sec. XV,” Rinascimento, 10 (1959), pp. 33–106, collected a group of them. Polizzotto referred to Santini’s example (ibid., p. 88) invoking Judith as ”a daring and courageous woman ... who for love of liberty took on a man’s courage (or soul)” to kill the tyrant Holofernes.

36 See La Rappresentazione di Iudith Hebrea (Florence: Giovanni Baleni, 1589), unpaginated, a later edition of that published by Francesco di Giovanni Benvenuto in 1519. My thanks to Meghan Callahan for procuring me a copy.

37 Ibid.: Achior, Nebuchadnezzar’s ambassador, explains to Holofernes, ”They have great faith in a God who always defends and protects them, and they give him all their devotion.”

38 Ibid.: Ozias, speaking to Judith, called her ”vedovetta santa,” commended her devout faith that could change God’s severe will, and asked her to pray for the Jews.

39 Ibid.: ”You should perceive [in Judith] the most prudent woman ever. ...”

40 Ibid.: ”May you be blessed by God Eternal … for your hard work alone, for your prudence alone. ...”

41 Ibid.: ”The Angel gives license. ... There is no need for other teachings. Do penitence and you will see” (the fulfillment of the Angel Gabriel’s opening promise that following Judith’s model will lead to virtue and glory in heaven).

42 See Luca Gatti, ”Displacing Images and Renaissance Devotion in Florence: The Return of the Medici and an Order of 1513 for the Davit and the Judit,” Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, ser. 3, 23 (1993), pp. 349–373.

43 The group’s political implications are analyzed by Thomas Hirthe, ”Die Perseus- und Medusa-Gruppe des Benvenuto Cellini in Florenz,” Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 29 (1987–88), pp. 197–216.

Table des illustrations

Légende 17.1. Donatello, Judith and Holofernes, 1457–64. Palazzo della Signoria, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 617k
Légende 17.2. Donatello, bronze David, late 1430s?. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 561k
Légende 17.3. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Justice, from Allegory of the Good Government, 1338–40. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Légende 17.4. Anonymous, Fresco of Judit Ebrea, Aristotle, and Solomon, ca. 1463–65. Palazzo del Comune, Lucignano, Italy. Photo credit: Elena Ciletti.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 935k
Légende 17.5. Niccolò Fiorentino, style of (Ambrogio & Mattia della Robbia?): Girolamo Savonarola, Dominican Preacher [obverse]; Italy Threatened by the Hand of God [reverse], ca. 1497. National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection, Washington, DC. Photo credit: © 2008 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 383k
Légende 17.6. Anonymous, The Martyrdom of Savonarola, 15th century. Museo di S. Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 929k
Légende 17.7. Play of Iudith Hebrea staged in 1518. Title-page. Florence, 1589. National Art Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo credit: Sarah Blake McHam.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1015/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 573k

Auteur

Sarah Blake McHam is Professor of Art History at Rutgers University. She has published numerous books and articles on Italian fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sculpture. Her most recent publications are articles dealing with the legacy of Pliny the Elder on such diverse artists as Giambologna, Giovanni Bellini, and Raphaelle Peale, offshoots of her forthcoming book on Pliny’s influence on Italian Renaissance art and theory.