Sandro Botticelli
Return Judith to Bethulia

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Sandro Botticelli, Return Judith Bethulia



31 X 24 cm

Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Return of Judith to Bethulia

The story of Judith is in the apocryphal Book of Judith. Judith was a Jewish woman who was totally devoted to God from the town of Bethulia. Bethulia, an Israelite town, was threatened by the King Nebuchadnezzar’s Assyrian army under the command of Holofernes. Judith, a Jewish widow, was a woman who was both attractive and honorable. She took it upon herself to be the savior of her city and came up with a plan. She managed to sneak into Holofernes camp outside of Bethulia and pretended to defect to their side. She was able to seduce Holofernes while he was drunk and then she chopped off his head and brought it back to Bethulia. When the Bethulian soldiers showed the Assyrians Holofernes head, they retreated. The Israelites easily overtook the Assyrians and were able to attack and defeat their army.

In the Return of Judith to Bethulia, Botticelli uses a familiar theme and a familiar type of figure. Judith was the female character that subdued the male in a hostile environment. Many times in Botticelli’s paintings he explores the relationship between sexes and often times, the female comes out on top. This was especially true in paintings that Botticelli did for weddings or for new moms. At these events, the female became the center of attention and their dominance showed. Judith and her maid look similar to the young nymphs that are often found in this era of painting. Botticelli paints them in flowing robes that are a definite part of his style. The nymphs were charming, young, girl-like figures that were often found to be the caretakers of fertility. The nymphs were also associated with a group of young women who were found to be violent in nature. They were an odd mixture of grace and yet had the potential to become violent indicated by their female dominance. They made a great subject for Botticelli to use when he was painting on the themes related to female dominance.

In the portrayal Discovery of the Body of Holofernes, there are two Assyrians showing their surprise at their leaders death. Judith has clearly won. The paintings of Judith show a female heroine and female dominance in an otherwise male dominated society. This theme is repeated in several of Botticelli’s pieces including Minerva and the Centaur.




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