German School, 17th Century

 

An oval alabaster relief of

Judith and Holofernes

 

 

Alabaster in a later giltwood frame

12 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches (31.8 x 26.7)

 

Provenance:

With Cyril Humphris, London, May 1972; Collection of Professor and Mrs. Clifford Ambrose Truesdell; sale, Christie's New York, 28 January 2009, lot 21.

 

The present work once hung in the library of Clifford Ambrose Truesdell (1919-2000), a professor of Rational Mechanics at Johns Hopkins University and an influential figure in twentieth century science.  Evidently, this subject was of particular interest to Professor Truesdell and his wife, who had their own likenesses represented as Judith and Holofernes in a portrait on the opposite wall. 

This popular biblical story has been treated by countless artists for centuries, and yet the present work, with its dramatic composition and powerful use of relief, stands out as astoundingly vivid and poignant.  Assisted by her maid, the figure of Judith occupies the center of the composition, striding toward the viewer, unapologetically holding the head of the slain Holofernes, whose lifeless body is sprawled on the canopied bed.  The bold corporeality of the figures contrasts with the delicately rendered details of their garments and the interior decoration.  The sculptor’s superb technical ability is evident in the varying degrees of low and high relief.  Also enhancing the appeal of the composition, the luminous alabaster surface highlights the powerful folds of fabric and accentuates the elegant movement of the figures.   

The work of sixteenth century Nuremberg sculptors such as Hans Jamnitzer (1538-1603), Benedikt Wurzelbauer (1548-1620), and Johann Gregor van der Schardt (1530-after 1581) left a lasting influence on German sculpture production well into the seventeenth century.  Our artist was likely aware of their work, in addition to Germany’s most renowned goldsmith, Wenzel Jamnitzer (1508-1585), and his grandson, Christoph Jamnitzer (1563-1618).  The elegant and dynamic figures of the latter, as portrayed in his silver gilt relief with the figure of Jupiter (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg), share close stylistic affinities to the present work.