A reappraisal of Donatello’s bronze Judith and Holofernes

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de Bhailís, Caoimhín
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Graduate School of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, University College Cork.
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Donatello’s bronze grouping, Judith and Holofernes, has been variously described as ‘a metaphor Medici rule’, as a symbol of the female hero usurped by patriarchal agendas, and a representation of the Florentine Republic. The relocations of the sculpture have given rise to much debate in terms of its changing roles, interpretations and significance as an adaptable icon for differing political agendas. In this presentation, I will place the sculpture in its original setting and seek to understand the psychological importance for the patron as I assert it to be. I will argue that the intention of Cosimo de’Medici was neither to present a statement of Medici rule, nor to implicate the family within the ideals of the Florentine state while simultaneously undermining the limited democracy of the republic. Rather, in keeping with the religious drives of the period and within Europe, in keeping with Cosimo’s fear of damnation, his philosophical outlook and discussions and his expansive reading habits; I will look to re-examine and reposition the debates which surround the sculpture and allow for it to be viewed as a religious and spiritual engagement between the patron and the work in the setting in which it was intended to be seen and interacted with. I will explore Cosimo’s attachment to the garden as a contemplative arena. The view of Alberti and Colonna that sees the garden as a “metaphorical and metaphysical” space where one can “commune with God” and the Christian tradition of the garden as a “spiritual, sacred” place lends additional weight to the argument that Cosimo did use this garden as just such a contemplative retreat within the confines of the city. The garden allowed him to both engage in his religious thoughts and his Neo-Platonic musings.
Judith and Holofernes , Cosimo de’Medici , Garden
DE BHAILÍS, C. 2012. A reappraisal of Donatello’s bronze Judith and Holofernes. Aigne, 5, 5-18.