A Reappraisal of Donatello's Bronze Judith and Holofernes

Caoimhín de Bhailís

Abstract


Donatello’s bronze grouping, Judith and Holofernes, has been variously described
as ‘a metaphor for Medici rule’, as a symbol of the female hero usurped by
patriarchal agendas, and as 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.

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