L.35 Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Panel Painting (and the Design of its Frame?), Cabinet Des Peintures, Fontainebleau


Cassiano del Pozzo in 1625 (Pozzo-Müntz, 1886, 268; Kusenberg, 1931, 102, 201, n. 232), describing the paintings in the Cabinet des Peintures in the Château at Fontainebleau, stated: “Del Rosso havevano alcuni pezzi, cioè una figura, grande poco men del vero, fatta per una Giudetta, con la testa d’Oloferne ai piedi; l’habito di essa è imitato assai dall’antico, cinta pocco sotto le poppe; il panneggiamento è bello et è in tavola;…”  Dan, 1642, 136 (Kusenberg, 1931, 102, 201, n. 233), recorded the painting, one of two by Rosso in the same location: “Le premier une Judith.”  At the end of the century in the same location, according to an inventory of 19 January 1692 (verified in October, 1694): “Une Judith, peinte sur bois, par Rousse” (Herbet, 1937, 94).

It is generally recognized that this lost painting is represented by Boyvin’s engraving (E.7 with bibliography, Fig.E.7), which is inscribed with Rosso’s name.  Dimier, 1904, 72, and 1928, 9, as probably one of the first pictures painted for the king in France.  Kusenberg, 1931, 102, and Pl. LV, as stylistically similar to the engraving of Rosso’s Mars and Venus (Fig.E.130, I) and hence datable from the beginning of Rosso’s French period.  Dimier, 1942, 24.  Barocchi, 1950, 252, Fig. 233.  Béguin, 1960, 43, 94, commented on the curtains in the background and stated that the use of the half-length figure is inspired by the paintings of the nude Giaconda.  Béguin, in Cox-Rearick, 1972, 5, mentioned the 1692 listing.  Cox-Rearick, 1972, 37-38, no. 44, as done early in Rosso’s French period, and in size around 1.50 x 1 meters.  Carroll, 1975, 19, Fig. 2, the lost original probably painted in 1530-1531.  Carroll, 1987, 180, 182, n. 5, under no. 59.  Scailliérez, 1992, 14, 17, 18, Fig. 10 (Boyvin), the lost picture known either from Boyvin’s print or from Rosso’s drawing in Los Angeles [D.84].  Franklin, 1994, 150, Pl. 114 (Boyvin, Vienna), as probably recording a lost French painting by Rosso, characteristics of which were anticipated by the Death of Cleopatra in Braunschweig that he would give to Rosso [RP.4].

Del Pozzo commented that the head of Holofernes in Rosso’s lost painting was at the feet of Judith, which is not what appears in Boyvin’s print where Judith is shown three-quarters length and the head is placed on a ledge in front of her.  Nor can her garments strictly speaking be considered antique in appearance, as Del Pozzo remarked.  But the special attention he gave to the drapery in the lost painting and to the tying of it just below Judith’s breasts give indications that Boyvin’s print is related to the image that Del Pozzo saw at Fontainebleau in 1625.  Scailliérez’s suggestion that the lost painting might be represented by Rosso’s drawing in Los Angeles (D.84), where again Holofernes’s head is not at Judith’s feet, is not possible because Judith is shown there entirely nude.

It is most likely that the engraving, which shows Judith holding the sword with her left hand, probably indicating that the scene is reproduced in reverse, was made from a drawing, as none of the sixteenth century prints after Rosso’s designs can be shown to have been made from his paintings, or even from drawings made from them.  The drawing that Boyvin used was, therefore, either one by Rosso, presumably for the lost painting, or a very good copy of that drawing.

As first pointed out by Kusenberg, the style of the Judith, as can be known from Boyvin’s print, is very similar to that of Rosso’s Mars and Venus, however to his drawing in the Louvre (Fig.D.42a) as well as to the print made from it.  Judith’s oval head and her heavy-lidded eyes, her elaborate coiffure of parallel plaits, braids, and ribbons, and her long arms and tapering fingers are virtually identical to these details in the Mars and Venus of 1530.  The folding of the drapery at the left behind Judith is quite like that of the bed curtains in his drawing.  One might also point out that her head is also very similar to the heads of the women in the copy in Rome (Fig.D.29) of Rosso’s drawing for his Christ in Glory as well as of the woman in the altarpiece itself in Città di Castello (Fig.P.20a), painted just before Rosso left Italy.  These similarities are so close as to make it highly likely that the Judith was invented by Rosso almost at the same time.  However, there are no French prints made after Italian works by Rosso except the Mars and Venus and copies of some of Caraglio’s prints.  Therefore, the Judith copied by Boyvin must be after a French work by Rosso, and from the evidence of its style as seen in that print after a very early one of around 1530-1531.

Dan, 1642, 96, in describing the fourth room of the Appartement des Bains at Fontainebleau, stated: “Là encore sur l’une des portes est un Tableau de Iudith, dont la bordure est accompagnée de plusieurs figures de relief.”  No artist is mentioned, but it has been assumed that this Judith is Rosso’s, not the original but a copy of it, for all the original paintings in these rooms had been replaced by copies during the reign of Henri IV when the originals were moved to the Cabinet des Peintures (see also Guilbert, 1731, I, 73, as in the fifth room).  There is, therefore, evidence to indicate that Rosso’s Judith once hung in the Appartement des Bains (see Cox-Rearick, 1972, 37-38).  But as the Appartement des Bains was not built and decorated until after Rosso’s death, his Judith could not have been made for this complex (see Dimier, 1900, 279-282, who pointed out that later, upon the destruction of the Appartement des Bains, the copies were moved to the Cabinet des Empereurs).1  But one detail of Dan’s notice suggests that Boyvin’s print is related to Rosso’s lost painting.  Dan remarks that the Judith he saw was hung over a door, suggesting that if it was Rosso’s painting, which was just under life size, according to Dan, it occupied an area that probably would not have taken a picture of a full-length figure.

If Rosso’s lost painting, a drawing for which may be represented by Boyvin’s print, was done in 1530-1531, then there is some possibility that it is the work indicated by the document recording payments to Rosso for his livelihood in the months of November and December 1530 and from January through July 1531 “durant lequel temps il a faict un grant tableau pour le Roy” (L.36 and DOC.15).  In the same document it is recorded that Francesco Scibec de Carpi carved a wood frame (“bois… entretailleure”) for it that was gilded by Jehan Poulletier (“pour l’or, façon dud. aornement de bois;” on the latter, see also the document of 8 July 1531 under L.36).  It is possible that this frame was designed by Rosso (see L.36).  Archangelle de Platte was paid to crate the painting and take it from Paris to Fontainebleau.  Rosso’s Judith must have been about 1.50 by 1 meters, a size that might qualify it to be called “un grant tableau.”  It would, of course, have been even larger in its frame, which, like that of the copy, could have been carved with “plusieurs figures de relief;” it is possible that the frame of the copy was itself a copy of the original frame.

If Rosso’s lost Judith was painted immediately upon his arrival in France it seems only reasonable to suppose that it was painted for the king.  Unfortunately one does not know why this subject was selected for what may have been Rosso’s first royal commission.


1 Cox-Rearick, 1972, 11, stated that the Appartement des Bains was begun in 1535 and decorated by 1540, but gave no documentation for these dates.  In EdF, 1972, 479, the construction of this series of rooms is dated 1534 or 1541; the date of their decoration, 1541-1550, according to the documents.  But no documentation is given for the construction.