The prime examples of this subject by Allori himself are considered to be the paintings in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (inv. no. 1912/96), recorded among the Grand-ducal collections (the Guardaroba medicea) on 20 September 1621, and in the Royal Collection (inv. no. RCIN 404989). The primacy of the latter painting is attested to not only by its inscription and date of 1613, but by the vividness of its characterisation, the freshness of colouring, and the numerous visible pentimenti, even following several preparatory drawings. Judith here displays a similar coolness and serene beauty, enveloped in rich red and yellow fabrics, her pose and demeanour in seeming opposition to the bloody act she has just committed.
The composition received numerous accolades from Allori's contemporaries, such as the poet Giambattista Marino, and the artist's biographer Filippo Baldinucci, who was the first to note an autobiographical interpretation of the subject. Baldinucci records that the model for the heroine was none other than the artist's mistress Maria di Giovanni Mazzafirra, with her mother the elderly servant.2 Holofernes' decapitated head is a self-portrait of the artist, highlighting the duality of love and death inherent in the story, made explicit in Marino's poem: '...di due morte...vo' che tu cada: da me pria col bel viso, poi con la forte man...' ['...I want you to fall by means of two deaths: first by my beautiful face, then by my strong hand...'].3 This conceit of self-portraiture was not unprecedented, as evidenced by Lavinia Fontana and Artemesia Gentileschi casting themselves as the heroine herself or Caravaggio's depiction of himself as the vanquished giant in his David with the head of Goliath, a composition that Allori knew.4
1. For a discussion of the different versions and their variants, see M. Chappell, Cristofano Allori, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Pitti, Florence 1984, pp. 78–81, cat. no. 25.
2. For a discussion of the autobiographical nature of the work, see J. Shearman, 'Cristofano Allori's Judith', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 121, no. 910, January 1979, pp. 2–10.
3. G. Getto, Opere scelte di Giovan Battista Marino e dei Marinisti, Turin 1962, vol. I, p. 254.
4. Respectively in Bologna, Museo Davia Bargellini (inv. no. 1924/5); Naples, Museo di Capodimonte (inv. no. Q378); and Rome, Galleria Borghese (inv. no. 455).
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