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Taylor, G.J. (1984). Judith and the Infant Hercules: Its Iconography.. Am. Imago, 41(2):101-115.

(1984). American Imago, 41(2):101-115

Judith and the Infant Hercules: Its Iconography.

Graeme J. Taylor, M.B.

The apocryphal story of Judith and Holofernes has been the subject of many art works as well as numerous plays and poems. However the juxtaposition of the Hebraic heroine and the Hellenic hero in the sixteenth century painting Judith and the Infant Hercules (Fig. 1) is unique.1 This painting has been attributed to the Master of the Mansi Magdalen, a painter named after his major work, a painting of Mary Magdalen now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. The artist, whose most active period was between 1515 and 1525, was a follower of Quentin Massys. According to Friedlander, he may be identical with Willem Muelenbroec whom Massys registered as a boy apprentice in 1501. Aside from the artist having been influenced by Dürer, Patinir and Massys, little more is known about him. Most of his other paintings are of religious subjects including an Adam and Eve (copied from a Dürer engraving), The Virgin and Child, The Holy Family, and the Mourning of Christ.2 While several of the Master's contemporaries did paintings of Judith, there was no tradition for the pairing of Judith with Hercules. Judith and the Infant Hercules is therefore of considerable iconographic interest.

In this painting Judith and Hercules are readily identified by their characteristic features. In one hand Judith holds a sword and in the other hand, the bearded head of Holofernes whom she has murdered. The infant Hercules grasps two snakes which have peacock crowns. The peacock is a frequent attribute of Hera who, according to the Greek myth, sent two poisonous snakes to kill Hercules and his mortal brother Iphicles as they lay sleeping in their crib.

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