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Judith and Holofernes (Donatello)

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Judith and Holofernes (Donatello)

The bronze sculpture Judith and Holofernes (1460), created by Donatello at the end of his career, can be seen in the Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli), in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy. A copy stands in one of the sculpture's original positions on the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It depicts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith and is remarkable for being one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round, with its four distinct faces.

The statue was commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici as a decoration for the fountain in the garden of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. It stood in this palace together with Donatello's David, standing in the courtyard, both depicting tyrant slayers. These two statues are among the earliest freestanding bronze Italian Renaissance statues conceived "in the round".

Judith is considered the symbol of liberty, virtue and victory of the weak over the strong in a just cause. She stands powerful with raised sword, holding the head of Holofernes by his hair. The statue was originally gilded and its shine in the sunlight must have made the onlookers stare at it; some gilding remains on the sword. To facilitate the gilding the bronze was cast in 11 parts. The base of the sculpture resembles a cushion, a naturalistic device first used by Donatello for his St. Mark in the Orsanmichele.

It is believed that an inscription on the granite pedestal originally read, "Kingdoms fall through luxury [sin], cities rise through virtues. Behold the neck of pride severed by the hand of humility." This dramatic and detailed statue is thus a metaphor of the Medici rule, as the defenders of Florentine liberty, akin to Judith, slayer of the tyrant Holofernes and defender of the people. This view is supported by accounts that mention a second inscription on the pedestal which read, "The salvation of the state. Piero de' Medici son of Cosimo dedicated this statue of a woman both to liberty and to fortitude, whereby the citizens with unvanquished and constant heart might return to the republic." Inscribed on the cushion are the words OPVS . DONATELLI . FLOR (the work of the Florentine, Donatello), this being the only surviving signed work by the artist.

In 1495, the sculpture was placed on the Piazza della Signoria, at the side of main door the Palazzo Vecchio, in memory of the expulsion of Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici from Florence and the introduction of the Florentine republic under Girolamo Savonarola. This time, this statue symbolized the expulsion of the tyrannical Medici. The statue was later moved to the courtyard inside the Palazzo Vecchio, and still later into the Loggia dei Lanzi. In 1919, it was then placed on the left side of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was replaced by a bronze copy in 1988 and the original, after restoration, was given a final place in the Sala dei Gigli inside the Palazzo Vecchio.

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