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Judith offering the Head of Holofernes
Bray, Salomon de
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Bray, Salomon de

Amsterdam, 1597 - Haarlem, 1664

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Judith offering the Head of Holofernes

1636. Oil on panel

This painting entered the Prado as an original by Philips de Koninck (1619-1688), though in the 1873 catalogue it is attributed to Salomon Koninck (1609-1656). Adecade later, in the 1885 edition, Bredius ascribes it to Pieter Fransz. de Grebber (1595/1605-1652/53), an attribution that is accepted by the Prado, albeit with reservations, as of the 1933 catalogue, where the previous title, Portraits of Unknown Persons, is also replaced with Presenting.

In 1956, Moltke relates the picture with a drawing by Salomon de Bray in the Wessenberghaus collection, signed and dated 1636, which he himself had published three years earlier. As a result, he does not hesitate to attribute the painting to Bray, even though in the drawing the woman is holding a decapitated head in her hands -suggesting this could be Judith with the head of Holofernes- whereas at that time the painting depicted the woman holding a blue vase with golden handles. In 1957, Benesch publishes a painting ascribed to Paulus Bor (1600-1669) that was part of the Robert Müller collection in Vienna (whereabouts unknown), identical to that of the Prado but with the woman holding a decapitated head in her hands. On the basis of the drawing published by Moltke, Benesch also attributes it to Bray, observing that the vase in the Prado version could be the result of repainting. The radiographic study conducted by the Prado`s Technical Documentation Department in 1992 reveals that the vase had indeed been painted over a head identical to the one both in the drawing and in the painting from the Viennese collection. Once the overpaint had been removed, the picture was recorded in the Museum`s 1996 catalogue as Judith and Holofernes and attributed to Salomon de Bray. The infrared reflectogram made on the occasion of the publication of this catalogue reveals the existence of a very schematic underdrawing, even on the face and hands, made with a dry, greasy medium and intensified in certain areas (the maidservant`s eyes and the head of Holofernes) with dark wash. Rather than a preparatory drawing, these lines appear to be superficially traced, which would endorse the hypothesis that the work is a replica.

The scene shows Judith wearing a sumptuous ceremonial mantle and presenting the head of Holofernes to somebody outside the picture who, to judge by the direction of her gaze, stands above her. Behind Judith a figure is looking on, perhaps her servant, peering at the head and raising her right hand slightly in a gesture of astonishment.

The theme of Judith and Holofernes is one of the Old Testament episodes most frequently depicted in European painting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The novelty here is the exact moment chosen. Dutch painters preferred subjects not dealt with by Catholic painters and, indeed, this work does not illustrate one of the two scenes from the Bible story most often portrayed: Judith decapitating Holofernes or Judith and her servant fleeing with the head of Holofernes hidden in her cloak. Here, the heroine appears presenting or offering the head of the enemy general to somebody.

The compositional structure, the hieratic appearance of the figures, the dramatic lighting that gives the shapes their palpable plasticity and the range of colours are all reminiscent of the works of Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem (1562-1638), one of Salomon de Bray`s teachers.

Moltke identifies the model for Judith as the same woman who appears in a portrait, signed by Bray and dated 1635, from the Earl Spencer collection in Althorp. The model for the servant, on the other hand, is the same as that used by Jan de Bray (1626/28-1697) in Judith and Holofernes for his own version of the Bible story.

Moltke considers the picture to date from 1636, as this is the year that appears in the drawing in the Wessenberghaus collection.

However, Giltaij and Lammertse (2001) believe the drawing was produced after the painting, for documentary purposes. Even if this were true, it would not contradict the date of 1636; if the drawing were made for recording purposes, it would be logical for the date that appears on it to refer to the year in which the painting was made.

Moreover, the number 1636 appears twice on the back of the picture, in keeping with the manner in which Salomon de Bray dated his work: firstly, there is the number written in the centre, 47/1636/4/25, which could be taken to indicate that the picture was finished on 25 April 1636 and was the 47th painting produced that year; secondly, there is the number that appears further down, No.S. 1636 9/24, which could be interpreted to mean that the painting was purchased by or sent to the Spanish royal collection (No. S.) on 24 September 1636. If this were the case, the painting must have been purchased by Philip IV.

From a stylistic and compositional standpoint, the work resembles the half-figure canvases produced by Bray in the 1630s. Accordingly, Dirkse (1988) and Van Suchtelen (1989) both consider it to have been designed as a companion piece to Jael, Deborah and Barak, dated 1635, since the two share the same support and dimensions. Moreover, Jael and Judith are both biblical heroines, renowned for similar deeds, and in seventeenth-century Dutch painting they were frequently represented together. However, although it is true that in the course of the 1630s Bray did paint diverse pairs of pendant paintings, in this case the compositions of the two pictures do not coincide: in the scene with Jael, the figures are positioned before some curtains, whereas here they are depicted against a neutral background.

The most interesting historiographical issue surrounding the work concerns the pictorial alteration it underwent at some stage in the past. Sample analysis reveals that the colouring matter used in the handles of the vase painted over the decapitated head is lead-tin yellow, a pigment that was used until the eighteenth century. Given that in the inventory of paintings rescued from the fire that destroyed the Alcázar in 1734 it was identified as Afable, the head of Holofernes must have been covered either before it was included in the Spanish royal collections or immediately afterwards.

The explanation for this iconographic alteration can perhaps be found in the link Bray seems to have made between the story of Judith and Holofernes and the Dutch struggle for liberation from Spanish rule. It is well known that during the attempts to form an independent Dutch republic, parallels were drawn between the Dutch and the Hebrew peoples in a key metaphor used by the writers of treatises and men of letters seeking to create a cultural tradition and thus a national identity. In the painting, Judith -traditionally a symbol of the loyalty and astuteness of the Israelites- has her hair adorned with a white band with red and blue ribbons, the colours of the old Dutch flag (which is not the case in the version in the aforementioned Viennese collection). This would identify her as the personification of the conquering Netherlands, in the throes of a struggle to free itself from Spanish dominion, embodied by the person of Holofernes, customarily a symbol of pagan power blinded by pride. This would justify the need to overpaint the head when it became part of the Spanish royal collections (Posada Kubissa, T.: Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, pp. 298-299).

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Technical data

Inventory number
P002097
Author
Bray, Salomon de
Title
Judith offering the Head of Holofernes
Date
1636
Technique
Oil
Support
Panel
Dimension
Height: 89 cm.; Width: 71 cm.
Provenance
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, 1734, nº 65).

Bibliography +

Moltke, J. W. von, Salomon de Bray, Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunswissen-schaft, 11/12, 1938-39, pp. 309-420.

Moltke, J. W. von, A Painting by Salomon de Bray, Oud Holland, 71, 1956, pp. 248.

Benesch, Otto, Note on Salomon de Bray, Oud Holland, 72, 1957, pp. 125.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Díaz Padrón, Matías. Recchiuto, Alberto, Application of X-rays to the study of some paintings in the Prado Museum, Medica Mundi. A review of modern radiology and medical electronics, 18/?, 1973, pp. 98-106.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Pintura Holandesa del siglo XVII en españa, Universidad, Valladolid, 1973, pp. 230.

Blankert, Albert, Gods, Saints and Heroes. Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembra..., National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980, pp. 196.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 85.

Dirkse, Paul, Vermaakt aan de Staat het legaart Thurkow-van Huffel, Utrecht, 1988, pp. 13.

Schillemans, R., Bijbelschilderkunst rond Rembrandt, Utrech, 1989, pp. 38.

Suchtelen, A. van, Jaël en Judith, heldinnen van het volk, Akt, 13, 1989, pp. 14-20.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Rembrandt's Holland, Jerusalén, 1993, pp. 114.

Vaan Gent y Pastoor, Im Lichte Rembrandts. Das Alte Testament im Goldenen Zeitalter der Niederländischen Kunst, Münster, 1994, pp. 67 y 264.

Lammertse, Friso, Salomon de Braij, Rotterdam-Frankfurt, 1999, pp. 84-87.

Bleyerveld, Yvonne, Hoe bedrichlijk dat die vrouwen zijn. Vrouwenlisten in de beeldende kunst in de Nederlanden circa 1350-1650, Leiden, 2000, pp. 243-245.

Giltaij, Jeroen; Lammertse, Friso, Maintaining a Studi Archive: Drawn Copies by the Braij Family, Master drawings, 39, 2001, pp. 367-94.

Painting family : the De Brays, master painters of the17 th..., Waanders Uitgeverij, Haarlem-Londres, 2008, pp. nº4.

Posada Kubissa, Teresa, Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009, pp. 39-42.

Buvelot, Q. Lammertse, F., Numbered paintings by Salomon de Bray, The Burlington magazine, 92, 2010, pp. 390-392 [391-392].

Biesboer, Pieter, Salomon Simonz de Bray 'Judith delivering the head of Holofernes' En:, Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age, Szépmuvészeti Múseum, 2014, pp. 314-315 n.78.

Other inventories +

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. 65.
65=Vna tabla de vna vara de largo y tres quartas de alto con marco bien tratado, de una fabula de mano de Juan Bre

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. f.416.
Doscientos veinte y seis. Retrato de dos personas desconocidas de felipe Coning

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1616.
Coning (Felipe) / 1616. Retrato de dos personas desconocidas. /La principal tiene en las manos una vasija azul y sobre los hombros un manto bordado. (tabla.) / Alto 3 pies, 2 pulg; Ancho 2 pies, 6 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1415.
1415.-(1616-N.)-Retratos desconocidos.-Son dos / personas: la principal, que parece mujer, tiene en la / cabeza una corona de flores, un precioso vaso de por- / celana en las manos, y sobre los hombros una especie / de dalmática bordada.-F.L. / Alto 0,89; ancho 0,71.-L

Exhibitions +

Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Painting
Budapest
28.10.2014 - 15.02.2015

Dutch Painters at the Prado
Madrid
03.12.2009 - 11.04.2010

Jan de Bray en zijn familie
Londres
02.07.2008 - 05.10.2008

Jan de Bray en zijn familie
Haarlem
02.02.2008 - 22.06.2008

Location +

Room 076 (On Display)

Update date: 03-05-2019 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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