The Old Testament character Judith originally held the severed head of the Assyrian army commander Holofernes in her left hand. In her missing right hand, she held the sword with which she beheaded him. Freestanding parts of sculptures – such as arms – are vulnerable to fractures. That explains why they didn’t survive the test of time. The sculpture is carved in alabaster and painted. Typical for the renaissance, is Judith’s clothing, which is inspired by a Roman soldier’s outfit with breastplate. Her boots refer somewhat to the Roman shin leg protectors. Mechelen was an important 16th-century center for alabaster carving in the Southern Netherlands. When the demand for carved wooden altarpieces fell sharply around the middle of the 16th century, many woodcarvers from Mechelen were out of work. It was probably they who retrained themselves to ‘antycksnijders’ (= carvers who worked in the style of Classical Antiquity), ‘cleynstekers’ (= small size image cutters) and ‘albastsnijders’ (=alabaster cutters).During the years 1530-1565, Mechelen was also able to profit from the increasing market for luxury goods in Antwerp. It was a major distribution hub at the time. Alabaster carvers mainly manufactured small reliefs and house altars, individual statuettes seem – based on the scarcely preserved examples – never have been produced on a large scale. Most freestanding sculptures were part of epitaphs or placed in the niches of superstructures of altarpieces. Some small alabaster figurines were intended as ornamental objects for ‘Kunstkammer’.
One of the artists who manufactured such precious figurines, was Gert van Egen (Mechelen, ca. 1550-Helsingør, 1612). He who worked for some time in the studio of Cornelis De Vriendt in Antwerp and then emigrated to Denmark where he got commissions from the Royal Danish Court. From his hand, a Judith with the head of Holofernes (dated ca. 1570-1575) is known. His Judith is depicted in the same pose as the specimen as the alabaster from Spectandum. The statue of Gert van Egen looks a bit more elegant. The latter artist seems to have taken inspiration from the Italian ceramic artist Giovanni della Robbia (Florence, 1469-Florence, 1529). He produced several statuettes of Judith with the head of Holofernes in glazed terracotta.Examples below :