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Master of the Mansi Magdalen, Judith and the Infant Hercules

Key facts
Full title Judith and the Infant Hercules
Artist Master of the Mansi Magdalen
Artist dates active early 16th century
Date made possibly about 1530
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 89.4 × 52.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Charles Haslewood Shannon, 1937
Inventory number NG4891
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Judith and the Infant Hercules
Master of the Mansi Magdalen

A biblical heroine, Judith, stands beside a mythological hero, Hercules, depicted as an infant; though seemingly unrelated, both are examples of fortitude. Judith, a Jewish widow, is shown holding the head of Holofernes, an Assyrian general. The Assyrians had besieged her city of Bethulia, and Judith went to the enemy camp to try to save it. When Holofernes invited her to his tent and tried to seduce her, she took advantage of his drunken stupor and beheaded him with his own sword. She carried his head home in triumph, and it was hung from the city walls. On the right, the infant Hercules strangles two serpents sent by the jealous goddess Juno to kill him.

According to classical and Renaissance authors, courageous deeds were more impressive if performed by undistinguished or weak persons, such as women or children. Here the painter shows a woman and a child, both naked to stress their vulnerability.

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