We are grateful to Professor Emiliani for confirming the attribution of this work on the basis of photographs. He dates it to the period of Guerrieri's full maturity ('nella stagione romana più bella'), during his second visit to Rome, between 1615 and 1618, at a time when he was working for Prince Marcantonio Borghese on the decoration for the newly completed Palazzo Borghese on the Campo Marzo.
This composition relates closely to Lot and His Daughters in the Manchester City Art Gallery (1882.45; see A. Emiliani, Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri da Fossombrone. Catalogo delle opere, Bologna, 1997, A.6, p. 191). The pose of the two women, as well as their costumes are very similar in both pictures. The omission of the figure of Lot from the present work, however, dramatically changes both the tone and the subject of the composition. The action here focuses exclusively on the two women, one reverentially pouring wine from a ewer into a simple basin, the other holding an oil lamp from a chain, which illuminates the figures against a background of profound darkness.
Professor Emiliani has suggested that the two woman portrayed here may be Judith and her maid, preparing for Holofernes. Guerrieri did paint this subject, depicting the moment Judith cuts off Holofernes' head, in a virtual homage to Artemisia Gentileschi (Pesaro, Banca Popolare Pesarese), yet the maid in the Pesaro picture is an old woman, and the two works, although of similar date seem unrelated. An alternative, and perhaps more likely interpretation, is that the scene in this picture represents Artemisia, the grieving widow of Mausolus, with her servant. Mausolus was the powerful satrap of Caria, in Asia Minor, from circa 395 B.C. until his death in 353 B.C. He was succeded by his wife, Artemisia, who erected a huge monument to his memory in the capital city Halicarnassus, that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Such was its fame that the term Mausoleum became eponymous with all subsequent elaborate sepulchral monuments. Artemisia is said to have been so distraught at the death of her husband that she mixed his ashes with wine and drank them, thereby making herself a living tomb. The present work captures both the the solemnity as well as the tenderness of this act, as Artemisia pours the wine onto her husband's ashes.