After CRISTOFANO ALLORI
1577 — Florence — 1621
Judith with the Head of Holofernes
oil on panel. 121/4 x 91/2" (310 x 240 mm)
The extraordinary painting by Cristofano Allori from which the present panel was copied was one of the most famous in all the Seicento. Legend had it, and Baldinucci so described, that the face of Judith was a portrait of Allori's lover, La Mazzafirra, the old woman her mother, and the head of Holofernes was a self-portrait. First trained by his father, Cristofano broke away from Alessandro's cool colors and precise contours which harked back to Bronzino. Cristofano travelled to Venice, saw the works of Barocci and Caravaggio and forged his own proto-baroque style. He was fastidious and perfectionist in his work and consequently did not produce a large number of paintings. Many of his projects were abandoned and others finished by collaborators. His interests and talents were also wide; he was known by his contemporaries as a great actor. Nevertheless, he was a splendid portrait painter. And his work, such as his Judith, was to remain hugely popular even in the ninteenth century.
A small version, about the size of the present work, was painted by Cristofano Allori as well. It is also, with the large original, in the collection of the Palazzo Pitti. Our painting was likely copied from that as there are differences from the large painting which our painting reflects: the more watchful and less innocent expression of a slightly older looking, longer-locked and paler skinned Judith, a less benign looking maid, the addition of stripes to the cloth about the heroine's waist, a more precisely lit headress of the maid with more distinct highlights, a less detailed, radiant silk brocade dress for Judith.
Miles Chappell, the foremost authority on Allori, noted in 1984 that he knew of 32 copies of this famous composition.1 He has seen a photograph of the present work and acknowledged its quality though suspects it is 19th century. Howver, others who have seen the painting itself do not doubt its age and place it firmly in the 17th century. One scholar, noting the coloring and morphology of Judith's face, has suggested that it may be by a Northern artist in Italy during the Seicento. It is possible that one day we shall know which painter was captivated by Allori's original and replicated it with such exquisite technique that we are captivated today by its beauty and intrigue.
Miles Chappell, CristofanoAllori, Florence, 1984