Judith in the Tent of Holofernes
Jacques Stella (1596, Lyon-1657, Paris)
Oil on slate
h: 30 cm; w: 36 cm
The work may have been acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese during the years that the French artist was in Rome (1623–1634), but it is not documented in the collection until 1650. The delicate medium shows a night scene illuminated by the light of candelabra. The Biblical heroine is shown kneeling in the act of asking God for the strength she needs for the bloody murder she is about to commit, while the unknowing Holofernes sleeps in a luxurious canopy bed decorated with a heavy silk damask that reflects the light of the flame.
According to the apocryphal texts of the Old Testament, the beautiful Judith, a widow living in the town of Bethulia, which was besieged by the Assyrians, successfully wooed General Holofernes, who organised a banquet in her honour to seduce her. He falls into a drunken sleep in his tent, allowing the implacable maiden to decapitate the oppressor of the Israelites. On the dressed table lies the warrior's elegant helmet, while his shield stands on the floor. Three putti are trying to draw the sword from its sheath, evidently to give it to Judith. The inspired pose of the protagonist relates to the elegance of the setting, the fine detailing and the playful tone of the putti, worthy of following a Venus. The style reveals the artist's knowledge of classical Bolognese painting, which was very common in Rome in the early decades of the 17th century and was associated with Elsheimer's study of light.
The artist, who is known to have completed another version of the same subject (private collection) is a specialist in painting on stone (slate and black marble), which allowed him to achieve very refined colours and an almost miniaturist rendering of detail, combined with the use of the medium as a natural base for the candlelight effect, which was ubiquitous at the beginning of the 17th century.
This is an unusual representation of an iconographic theme. The gestural expressiveness of the protagonist and the phenomenal lighting reflect the divine assistance given to Judith. Through faith she finds the strength to accomplish the bloody act of decapitating Holofernes.
The French artist painted this small, precious piece on slate during his stay in Rome from 1625 to 1634, during which time he mixed with the entourage of Cardinal Scipione Borghese.
Scipione Borghese (?)
The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.
Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I dipinti, I, Rome, 1955, n.220, p. 122.
Chomer, G., Laveissière S., in Jacques Stella (1596–1657), exhibition catalogue (Lyon, Toulouse), Paris, 2006, cat. 43, pp. 97–98.
Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.
Sofia Barchiesi, Marina Minozzi "Judith in the Tent of Holofernes" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;it;Mus11;48;en
Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi
TITLE: Author and Researcher
Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work., Marina MinozziMarina Minozzi
AFFILIATION: Borghese Gallery, Rome
TITLE: Head Art History Co-ordinator
Marina Minozzi, a graduate and specialist in Art History, is currently the Head Art History Co-ordinator at the Borghese Gallery, where she curates the collections from the 18th and 19th centuries and heads the museum’s Documentation Centre. She has published a range of papers, including many on art-collecting in Rome and particularly the Borghese collection. She is currently involved with the Ten Great Exhibitions project underway at the Borghese Gallery, and has written essays on the work of Bernini, Raffaello, Canova and Correggio.
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 62