Giovanni della Robbia (1469-1529), Judith holding the head of Holofernes, Italian, Florence, circa 1520, glazed terracotta, height 24 3/8 in.; 62 cm. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's
Provenance: Collection of Margarete Oppenheim, sold Julius Böhler 1936
Bibliography: Julius Böhler, Sammlung Frau Margarette Oppenheim, sale catalogue, Munich, 23 April – 15 May 1936, no. 722, fig. 47
Tschermak von. Seysenegg, “Die Judith von Giovanni della Robbia”, in Keramos, October, 1986, pp. 27-36, no. 114
Notes: Giovanni’s famous, pioneering grand uncle, Luca della Robbia (1399/1400-1482) was among the most important and influential Renaissance sculptors working in Florence. At the start of the 15th century, Luca developed the terracotta invetriata process by modelling terracotta and then glazing it in a variety of colors, or in white, often made to imitate marble. Luca employed his nephew Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525) who maintained the renowned studio after Luca’s death. Giovanni, the most distinguished of Andrea’s sons, took over the running of the workshop after his father’s death. He is distinguished, in part, for his use of polychromy and heightened colors including a bright yellow, multiple shades of blue and green.
Giovanni produced six known versions of the present composition, some of which are preserved in public collections including those in Budapest, the Szépmûvészeti Múzeum; Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts (no. 46.839) and New York, the Brooklyn Museum (acc. no. 19.114 ). The present sculpture is the only known figure from this group in which the flesh areas are intentionally left unglazed.
Some scholars have mentioned Donatello’s Judith as a partial source for this composition. However, according to Gentilini (1998, op. cit., p. 266 and in Darr, op. cit., pp. 114-115), Donatello’s lost Dovizia (Abundance) may have influenced Giovanni della Robbia who produced several statues of Dovizia, including a female figure similar to his Judith. Darr suggests (op. cit., p. 115) that perhaps Ghiberti’s figure of Judith on the east doors of the baptistery in Florence may have been a source for the Detroit bronze statuette of Judith by Pallaiuolo (circa 1470) which in turn could have provided Giovanni with the inspiration to produce his Judith.
Von Seysenegg (op. cit., p. 30) published a census of the eight surviving variants of the Judith figures (two of which are now known to date from the 19th century). He erroneously states that the present figure of Judith, which was on loan to the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin (inv. No. L.G. 291), was later destroyed. The sculpture was in fact sold at auction at Julius Böhler in 1936, all of which has been confirmed in writing by the curator at the Berlin museum.
The story of how Judith, a beautiful and virtuous widow, saved the Israelites from defeat by the Assyrians by decapitating their general, Holofernes, while he slept in a drunken stupor, is described in the Book of Judith XIII, 7-8. The theme in art is used to symbolize the triumph of humility over pride and vice.
A. Marquand, Giovanni Della Robbia, Princeton, 1920
G. Gentilini, I Della Robbia e l’ “arte nuova” della scultura invertriata, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1998, p. 267, no. III.10
Sold with a copy of thermoluminescence analysis report 6 October 2015 from Arcadia, Milan indicating that the result of the test for the sample taken is comparable to the presumed age [circa 1500].
Sotheby's. Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale, New York, 29 janv. 2016, 10:00 AM