His first version of Judith and Holofernes is an oil on canvas 145 x 195 cm painted before 1600. His image, showing the powerful jolts of the dying general with the sword deep in his throat, is very innovative.
Reality meets fiction. In 1606 Caravaggio kills a young aristocrat and flees from Rome where he is sentenced in absentia to death by decapitation. He paints shortly afterward his second version of Judith and Holofernes that the artist-merchant Louis Finson tries to sell in 1607.
This painting was known by a copy 140 x 160 cm attributed to Finson, in a carefully applied technique that could not be confused with the spirited and spontaneous brush stroke of the master. In comparison with the first version, the man is almost identical but Judith and her old female servant have a very different role.
The first version showed Judith disgusted, close to vomiting, but who will keep the courage to finish her action. In the second version, she is proudly imperious, symbolizing the implacable application of justice. Her clothes have become dark to highlight the expression of the face that becomes the main theme of the image.
The servant changed her position to better encourage Judith. With the ugliness of her pattern of wrinkles, she will remain intractable until the death of the convict, at this point in the life of the artist when he must find a strategy against a court decision.
Another example of the second version was discovered in 2014 in an attic in Toulouse by the auctioneer Marc Labarbe. The cleaning of this oil on canvas 144 x 174 cm, including the removal of opaque varnishes, revealed the qualities that were missing in the copy by Finson. Authenticated under the direction of Cabinet Turquin as the original referred in 1607, this masterpiece will be sold by Marc Labarbe in Toulouse on June 27.
The preparation of this single lot auction is the subject of a dedicated website prepared by Labarbe and Turquin. The image is shared by Wikimedia.