Sixty-five

Il Ritorno di Giuditta a Betulia

1470-72 by Alessandro Filipepi Sandro Botticelli
Uffizi, Florence

Out of the many Italian wonders in the Uffizi this small painting is hardly one of the most famous; small, it is inconspicuous in the centre of its often crowded room, yet it intrigues, if only for its author whose larger and more infamous paintings hang throughout the gallery. Even without knowing that this is a Botticelli, his stylistic signatures are evident throughout the painting. The serenity of Judith’s face summons that of Spring’s (postcard eleven), calmly flat and oval, it is pale and statue still. As the figure of Spring epitomised La Primavera, here Judith epitomises her triumph over Holofernes. She is un-brutal, placid even, yet beautifully in command; crowned, her hair curls in golden ringlets, stepping forward she is assertively in control, holding her weapon, lethal though it is, as an adornment of her command. Silvery it curves to a delicate point, picking up the translucence of the slippery folds of her gown, billowing as they ripple in the breeze. Likewise, her maid determinedly looks forward, clutching her skirts, her scarves also caught in the wind, ironically mirroring those of Holofernes’ head. This movement drives both figures forward, captured as they are on their mission back to Betulia. The calmness of Juthith’s attitude towards the task in hand is reflected in the colours Botticelli uses, the subtlety of the blues and greens dilute to a wash that prevents any harshness of colour from distracting from the story of the painting. Far from the myth of Spring where dark and fantastically vibrant colours dominate, here Boticelli adopts a peaceful backdrop for Judith’s courageous act.

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