Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans

Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans f. 47r, Judith gives her servant Holofernes’s head

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f. 47r, Judith gives her servant Holofernes’s head

The scene is quite simple and shows a field with four tents, one of which is open, revealing the bare chest of the bloody, headless body of Holofernes on a bed. Outside, Judith raises a sword and places the Assyrian general’s head in a cloth sack held by her servant. As frequently occurs in Jean Colombe’s work, the scene is rather overdramatic – in this case due to the blood staining the bed, the grass and the sack. This is the scene usually depicted, and it is very similar to the one for example on one of the archivolts on the north façade of Chartres cathedral. As is usual in Jean Colombe’s atelier, gold is used lavishly to unify the different parts of the page, highlight colours, decorate the frame and as part of the ornamental elements in the decorative borders.
Some exegetes considered Judith to symbolise the Church, although more often she was considered to represent the Virgin Mary. St Bonaventure for example, explained that Our Lady, like Judith, cut the head off the devil that Holofernes was the incarnation of. She also symbolised Sanctimonia, i.e. the Chastity and Humbleness that overcome the Lust and Pride embodied by Holofernes, according to Prudentius’s Psicomaquia.

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