As you may know from a previous post, I don't usually take photos when I visit a museum, but I really regret not taking a picture of this painting because I have scoured the internet and no reproductions come close to doing this piece justice. Apparently there are two versions of this painting: though I cannot confirm it I believe that the painting I saw was the one that originally hung in Florence (I don't know when the Vatican acquired it). Web images show another, very similar painting, but with Judith's head slightly more cocked to her right side (this hangs in the Queen's Gallery in London). I prefer the gesture of the painting I took in: it was more direct and less tentative, and thoroughly appropriate given the deed she has just committed.
I want to say two things about this painting: First, the values (range of darks and lights) are masterful. There are three heads here: Judith's, Holofernes', and the upraised head of the accomplice/maidservant. The quick little compositional sketch I did of the painting isn't consistent with the image I pasted above: the actual painting has about 20 percent more canvas above Judith's head, and it's almost completely black. However, the black space serves to heighten the drama of the composition, and successfully sets off Judith's head. Although the heads are painted in relative mid-tones, they are not forgotten, and the whites of Judith's sash and the head scarf worn by the older woman serve to balance one another. It is not very clear from this image, but Allori chose to cut off the sword (i.e., not include the whole thing)-- it vanishes off the canvas and into the blackness behind Judith. Second--and this is the most frustrating thing about this image-- I wish there existed another such model as the one Allori used (his mistress, Mazzafirra). In the painting Allori captured a Judith who is calm, but also searching. Her eyes were slightly Asiatic and just absolutely beautiful. Anyone going to Rome with a camera some time soon?
Here are some fast facts about Allori: he painted in Florence in the late 1500s, early 1600s, and his father, also an artist, was his first teacher. I have looked for tidbits about him on-line, but unfortunately every article about him has been lifted from this one source, and I don't want to regurgitate it here.
When I was a teenager I was taken in by the story of Judith and Holofernes after seeing a reproduction of Artemesia Gentileschi's painting (it didn't hurt of course that the painter was a woman and daughter of a painter and that the story was about a beautiful woman who saves her people by seducing and beheading the general who is laying siege to her city). Here are some other takes on the story of Judith and Holofernes: