Judith and Holofernes is a bronze sculpture created by Donatello near the end of his life, that was completed at most 1964. Donatello sculpted the first and only sculptural representation of the Jewish heroine, Judith. The sculpture was commissioned by the Cosimo de’ Medici of the famous and affluent Medici family.
When it was completed it was accompanied with an already finished bronze statue of David, also commissioned by Donatello. The two statues were the central points in the open garden spaces of the Palazzo Medici, and were visible to the Florentine public. It is believed that the Medici family commissioned the statue as they perceived themselves to be the “defenders of freedom in Florence”.While the sculpture of Judith slaying Holofernes is now bronze, it was believed to have been completely gilded (coated in gold) due to specks of gold that are still seen present on the back Judith’s sword, in order to symbolize nobility and victory, and in the Medici household –power & wealth. Unlike the other depictions of Judith in which we see either the first blow of Judith’s strike, or the barely seen decapitated head, in this version we see Judith standing triumphantly over the slayed Holofernes, with the sword above her shoulder as if she were about to strike him once more, as is in the passage of the Bible. “O Lord, God of Israel, give me strength now. Then Judith raised the sword and struck him twice in the neck as hard as she could, chopping off his head.”Unlike the expression of Gentileschi’s rushed and determined look, or Klimt’s portatil of ecstasy, Donatello’s version of Judith holding the head of Holofernes hair, stands cold, and defiant.
While Holofernes looks like he is already dead, with his arms hanging unnaturally by his side, and his mouth wide open, he lies by her feet. Donatello tries to focus on the naturalism and factual depiction of Judith and Holofernes, as Judith’s clothes are –while still chaste, appear to be tussled and wrinkled, and hanging off her shoulder, as she is prepared to strike Holofernes one last time. Unlike the Baroque, and Art Nouveau representation of Judith being almost always either slightly or completely undressed, in this portrayal we see her covered from head to toe, with a veil, while Holofernes, in contrast is almost completely nude. His drunkenness, nudity, and the cushion he is propped on symbolizes lust and —, whilst Judith represents nobility and chastity.