With “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” by Lucas Cranach (1472 Kronach – 1553 Weimar) we have selected a prominent panel from the collection of German Renaissance painting that had not been on display for two years during which it was undergoing necessary restoration.
In the course of an ongoing research project that focuses on German paintings before c. 1540 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum the panel was the subject of a series of technological analyses that shed light on its production process. This Point of View presents the results, offering insights into the workings of Cranach’s studio, which produced countless versions of different subjects such as the biblical story of Judith.
We also focus on the history of the painting, which was produced around 1525/30: it served as the template for a “Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist” painted around 1600 at the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. In this Point of View the two paintings are displayed together, emphasising the contentual ambivalence of these related compositions: Cranach presents Judith as a virtuous heroine from the Old Testament who vanquished Holofernes, the powerful enemy of her people and her faith. Salome, however, was responsible for the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. Once Judith was displayed with Salome the valiant heroine who defended the true faith morphed into a wily widow.