Cranach - Judith with the head of Holofernes
Judith with the head of Holofernes
Workshop Lucas Cranach the Elder
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel
20.10.2017 - 08:58
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Painting:
CDA ID / Inventory NumberDE_MHK_GK16
Persistent Linkhttp://lucascranach.org/DE_MHK_GK16
FR (1978) No.FR230H
Title:
Judith with the head of Holofernes[Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Attribution:
Workshop Lucas Cranach the Elder [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Lucas Cranach the Elder [Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 2015, 270]
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Dating:
after 1526 or about 1530 - 1531[Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Owner / Repository / Location:
OwnerMuseumslandschaft Hessen Kassel
RepositoryGemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel
LocationKassel
Dimensions:
Dimensions of support: 87.4 x 57.5 x 0.6 cm (trimmed along all edges) [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Support:
lime wood [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Signature / Date:
Artist's insignia bottom left: winged serpent with elevated wings, facing right [cda 2013]
Inscriptions, Marks, Labels, Seals:
Original Inscriptions:
- on the sword: 'N' - on the coin: 'LVDOVICUS PRIM[us]: [D for Dei is missing] GRACIA: R[ex]: BO[emiae]:' [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Inscriptions, Marks, Labels, Seals:
Reverse of the panel: - label from the Staatl. Museen Kassel [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Description:
On the panel in Kassel Judith shows the severed head of Holofernes. She grasps him by the hair so that his face is turned upwards. The particularly low angle clearly shows with the slightly open eyelids and open mouth that Holofernes was surprised while sleeping. Judith holds up the general's sword in her right hand while her head is inclined slightly to one side. The parallel diagonals of the sword and the curtain emphasis the position of her head within the composition. At the same time the gentle curve of her head within the oval frame of the beret harmonises with the soft pyramidal shape of the torso. The curtain, which belongs to Holofernes' tent, opens to the right revealing the distant town of Bethulia on a rocky outcrop. Judith wears a Joachimstaler, one of the most famous silver coins of the german Renaissance, which gave its name to all other thaler coins. This thaler, named after St. Joachimstal, the place where it was minted, which is located on the southern bohemian slopes of the Erzgebirge, was currency in the electorate of Saxony and from there infiltrated european monetary transactions. On the panel in Kassel the side with the bohemian lion and a circumscription with the name of King Ludwig I of Bohemia (as Ludwig II also King of Hungary) is shown. [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Provenance:
- probably acquired as early as the 16th or the early 17th century; first recorded under Landgrave Carl (reg. 1677-1733)
- lost under King Jérôme
- 1817 rediscovered in Kassel

[Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
Exhibitions:
- Frankfurt, London 2007/2008, No. 99
- Rome 2010, No. 31
- Gotha/Kassel 2015, No. 94
Sources / Publications:
Reference on PageCatalogue NumberFigure/Plate
Exhib. Cat. Rome 2010231 - 233No. 31Pl. p. 233
Exhib. Cat. Frankfurt 2007320-32199p. 321
Cat. Kassel 199770-76
Cat. Kassel 1996
Cat. Kassel 198227-29p. 76
Friedländer, Rosenberg 1979117230H
Cat. Kassel 196917, 78pl. 5
Cat. Kassel 19584716
Friedländer, Rosenberg 1932190H
Cat. Kassel 192918, 9916
Glaser 1923233
Cat. Kassel 19131316
Michaelson 1902108
Cat. Kassel 188857
Cat. Kassel 1877211
Cat. Kassel 186631
Lotz 186213911
Cat. Kassel 1845411
Cat. Kassel 1830311
Cat. Kassel 18192-310
Cat. Kassel 178318055
Interpretation / History / Discussion:
The representation of Judith in Kassel also proports a religious political statement. In this context the thaler on her beret plays a particular role. Its exposed position directly on the central axis above the head of Holofernes indicates that it is not merely intended as a decorative element, but correlates with the subject of the painting. In this respect it resembles all the medallions on panel paintings that have a specific meaning. For example in portraits by Dürer Emperor Maximilian wears a portrait medallion depicting the Virgin, his patron saint, on his beret. The saxon chancellor Georg Brück was portrayed by Cranach with a portrait medallion of Johann Friedrich to express his goodwill as well as to demonstrate his loyalty to the elector. The thaler on Judith's beret alludes to Ludwig I. of Bohemia, who went down in history as a fighter against the Turks. In 1526, aged only 20, he lost his life at the battle of Mohacz. The viewer who can interpret the Latin circumscription on the thaler is reminded of the soldier who fought against the Turks and fell so young and could thus interpret the Kassel Judith as an avenger against the Turks as was the case in slightly late works by Sixt Birck and Hans Sachs. By equating the Assyrians with the Turks they refer to the current situation in their works and refer to Luther's recommendation that the Book of Judith yields a 'good, solemn, valiant tragedy'. Admittedly in this case the Judith in Kassel does not embody a protestant symbolic figure, but rather refers to the common enemy of the empire, with whom both catholics and protestants were in conflict.
[Cat. Kassel 1997, 73]
[...] It is rare that the background like here in the painting from Kassel is complemented by a wonderful view of a landscape. [1] Here the obliquely cut dark backdrop can be associated with the field commander's tent, the scene of the crime. The eleborate attire of the sitter was employed in a slightly modified form in the ideal portrait of a courtly lady from about 1530. [...]
In contrast to other depictions of the subject it is striking that here the figure of Judith, who is generally turned further to the left and positioned at an angle within the pictorial space, is distinctly frontal. With this device Cranach recalls depictions of 'Justitia', which also have the upright sword as a symbol of juristdiction in common. Examples may be found in Cranach's work as well as on contemporary Saxon electoral coins.[2] These similarities underline the symbolic significance of Judith as an example of the divine justice carried out against Holofernes. The initial 'N' on the blade of the bloody sword just above the hilt refers to King Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Holofernes served as field commander. [3] This is associated with a clear warning to the tyrannical king, who should be afraid of God's justice.
[1] It is assumed that Cranach draws on the venetian type. Exhib. Cat. Basel 1974, 418.
[2] Exhib. Cat. Brussels 2010, 197; Cat. Kassel 1997, 74
[3] Exhib. Cat. Frankfurt 2007, 320
[Exhib. Cat. Gotha, Kassel 2015, 270]
Material / Technique:
  • Date: 1997
  • Technical examination / Scientific analysis
  • Infrared reflectography
  • Support
  • - lime wood
    - four planks alligned vertically
    - planed on the reverse
    - in the 19th century the panel was thinned to a thickness of 0.6 cm, laminated onto a wooden panel and cradled
    - as can be seen in the x-radiograph flax was employed to reinforce the panel
    - there is a rebate of 0.4 cm in width along the top of the panel, a barbe has been preserved along both the top and bottom edges
    - the panel has been trimmed on all four sides, on the left and right this includes the picture plane
  • Underdrawing
  • - an underdrawing is only barely visible in the infrared reflectogram
    [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
      • Date: 1928
      • Technical examination / Scientific analysis
      • X-radiography
        • created by: Kurt Wehlte
        Condition Reports:
        • Date: 1997
        • - good condition - abrasion in the dark areas (Holofernes' hair, curtain), covered by retouching and overpaint - there is a broad retouch across the left cheek, chin and neckline - a long band of retouching covers a split at the centre of the panel, c. 60 cm in length and up to 2 cm in width [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]
          • Date: 1988
          • - technical examination for the catalogue [Curatorial files, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Kassel]
            History of Restoration:
            • Date: 1981
            • - conservation treatment by C. Walther [Curatorial files, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Kassel]
              • Date: 1963
              • - the panel was prepared for display in the gallery [Curatorial files, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Kassel]
                • Date: 1899
                • - in the 19th century the panel was thinned to a thickness of 0.6 cm, laminated onto a wooden panel and cradled [Cat. Kassel 1997, 70]