A young woman in a gold dress holds a man’s decapitated head. Her other hand hidden in darkness holds a knife and an old maid watches her from behind. At a glance, she is Judith, an Israeli heroine who cut off the head of an enemy commander and saved her country. However, Judith in the painting is depicted as an attractive woman, rather than a brave heroine. She also looks too calm to have killed a person. Why did a painter depict her like this?
The story of Judith in the Old Testament had been a popular theme among European painters for centuries as it contains a sensational element of decapitation, as well as a patriotic message. Cristofano Allori, a 17th-century painter based in Florence, also made several works based on this theme. He became a royal painter of the Medici family at an early age but did not garner much attention until he came out with this Judith painting.
The model in the painting is his former lover, Maria di Giovanni Mazzafirri. The two had an intense relationship but it didn’t end well. Beautiful Mazzafirri spent a lot of Allori’s money, putting him in poverty. Allori ended the relationship after much misery and tore up the two portraits of a female saint based on her. The painter who thought their relationship didn’t work out because of Mazzafirri’s mother put the mother’s face on the face of the maid in the painting who helped the murder.
Perhaps, he was deeply hurt by the breakup. The beheaded face of Allori in the painting is drawn with pain, which symbolizes his continuous suffering. Meanwhile, Mazzafirri in a gold dress, which represents nobility, is depicted as a young and attractive woman. She is also a bold woman who can kill a man without getting a single drop of blood on her clothes. It didn’t seem like Allori wanted to blame his old lover. Instead, he painted her as a beautiful, noble, and bold woman and kept it until he died.