Minerva. Oil on canvas, 137 x 116 cm. 1635. Private collection, New York

Bellona. Oil on canvas, 127 x 97.5 cm. 1633.New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Judith at the banquet of Holofernes is one of a small group of allegorical paintings that depict the monumental figure of a classical goddess or heroine painted by Rembrandt between 1633 and 1635. These works marked a further step in his ongoing artistic evolution since the time of his arrival in Amsterdam in 1631.

The group is interesting in terms of its originality. Rather than seeking out his models on mount Olympus, Rembrandt looked to his immediate surroundings with the intention of humanising his goddesses. Only their exotic clothes suggest that these are figures from antiquity and the prevailing mood is that of proximity, to which their benevolent characters contribute. All are figures admired for their virtues: Flora for her fertility, Bellona for her strength, Minerva for her wisdom and Artemisa for her self-sacrifice.

It is not known whether Rembrandt produced these work as commissions or if he hoped to sell them on the open market.

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