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AN OVAL ALABASTER RELIEF OF JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES
Property from the Collection of Professor and Mrs. Clifford Ambrose Truesdell
AN OVAL ALABASTER RELIEF OF JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES

GERMAN, SECOND HALF 16TH CENTURY

Details
AN OVAL ALABASTER RELIEF OF JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES
GERMAN, SECOND HALF 16TH CENTURY
Depicting Judith striding forward, her right hand holding a sword and her left hand grasping the bearded head of Holofernes, whose body lies on a canopied bed to the right, with a maid servant to the left of Judith, in a later giltwood frame
12½ in. (32 cm.) high, 10½ in. (27 cm.) wide; 16½ in. (42 cm.) high (framed), 14 in. (35½ cm.) wide (framed)
TRUESDELL COLLECTION
Provenance
with Cyril Humphris, London, May 1972.

Lot Essay

Judith and Holofernes is, by narrative necessity, almost always depicted in a dramatic and violent manner. In the Truesdell version, however, the use of a relief and the deep carving make this subject even more powerful and -- at the same time -- absolutely beautiful. It is a tour de force of late-Mannerist carving.

Judith, center stage, strides forward towards the viewer -- almost out of the image the relief is so high and with one foot nearly on the outer frame -- engaging her audience as she brandishes her enormous sword as well as the magnificently bearded head of Holofernes. Her powerful right arm, totally disengaged from the relief surface, is both supremely confident and alarming. Even the lower relief areas to the right and left of Judith, such as the body of Holofernes with his well-modeled musculature, and the maid with her voluminous clothing are well defined and expertly carved. Adding to the overall appeal of the composition is the luminous quality of the aged alabster surface.

The artist of the Truesdell relief was clearly informed by many artistic influences circulating in mid-sixteenth century Central Europe, but the sculptural center of Nuremberg, may have had a particular relevance. Such elegant and spirited figures modeled in boxwood for the great goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer in 1549 are particlularly close in both design and execution (J. Chipps Smith, German Sculpture of the Renaissance c. 1520-1580: Art in the Age of Uncertainty, Princeton, 1994, no. 270). Additionally, the bronze reliefs made for the celebrated Rathaus grille of Nuremberg about ten years earlier, with their wild hair and sophisticated modeling, would also have been hugely influential to those other sculptors working in Nuremberg and further afield (ibid., pp. 264-65).

This subject had particular resonance for the Truesdells as, on the wall of Professor Truesdell's Library, opposite this relief, hung a portrait of the couple as Judith and Holofernes, with Mrs. Truesdell, true to the story, holding the head of her husband.

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