Judith beheading Holofernes by Donatello - close up, pre restoration

Restored Donatello statue back in Palazzo Vecchio

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Donatello, a master sculptor during the Renaissance in Florence, created a bronze masterpiece of Judith and Holofernes. Following restoration funded by the Friends of Florence Foundation, it is back in the Palazzo Vecchio in historic Florence.

Judith and Holofernes (1457-1464) is one of the last known works by Donatello. The artist completed the work two years before his death at the age of 80 in 1466.

Depicting the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith, it is remarkable for being one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round, with its four distinct faces. The sculpture is back in the Sala dei Gigli (Room of the Lilies) inside the palazzo that houses Florence city hall.

Pre-restoration Donatello sculpture of Judith beheading Holofernes in situ in Palazzo Vecchio

Friends of Florence Foundation President Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda said, “We have been very happy to have funded the restoration of this statue, a fundamental work not only for Florentine history, but for world art and culture.

“In this way it will be able to continue to show itself to present and future generations in all its powerful beauty”.

A copy of the statue stands outside in Piazza della Signoria. It is one of Donatello’s most famous works, for its expressive power and the masterly and refined sculpting technique.

Copy of the Donatello statue, Judith beheading Holofernes, in the Piazza della Signoria

Friends of Florence have already funded other notable restorations for the Palazzo Vecchio including Andrea del Verrocchio’s Putto With Dolphin.

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Why was Judith slaying Holofernes so popular in art?

The subject of Judith beheading Holofernes, depicting the climax of the story in the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, was a common subject in art.  

Female heroes such as Judith embody a common theme in the Bible where the oppressed, represented by the Israelites, triumph over their oppressors. While other heroines in similar roles achieve their goals in a straightforward or conventional way, Judith’s character stands out due to her combination of piety, traditional feminine virtues, and strength.

This unique blend of qualities has ensured that the story of Judith beheading Holofernes remains a significant narrative for artists interested in exploring power dynamics and gender roles.

The tale of Judith is particularly well-suited for examining the power of female virtue, beauty, and strength. As a result, there is a wealth of artistic representations of Judith, typically falling into two categories: the femme forte (strong and virtuous woman) and the femme fatale (dangerously seductive woman).

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