Date of Award

Fall 12-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts in Art History



First Advisor

Dr. James Hutson

Second Advisor

Erin Sutherland

Third Advisor

Dr. Melissa Elmes


Judith is a brave female biblical heroine that performs the courageous act of decapitating Holofernes to save the town of Bethulia. Many artworks of Judith provide a different perception of her, as artists portray Judith as weak, feeble, and indifferent; thus, stripping her of the courageous and heroic portrayal that she deserves. The action of a female dominating and overpowering a man is unusual for the time; however, Judith was considered a very significant symbol for Florence and the Medici family, as she represented liberty, virtue, and victory over the strong. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes was commissioned and created for the Medici family in 1456. This thesis will focus on Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes, as this artwork starts the beginning of showing Judith as a strong female biblical heroine and demonstrates the significance of Judith as a symbol of Florence and the Medici. By analyzing and discussing how and why this strong female biblical figure is extensively used, it creates an understanding as to why Judith was a significant symbol in a patriarchal society; therefore, making it essential to understand Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes. This thesis will also be analyzing and comparing various artworks to Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and discussing how Judith is portrayed as a character. This demonstrates how the depiction of Judith has changed throughout the Italian Renaissance and Baroque period by demonstrating how she went from weak, feeble, and indifferent to lively, vivid, and strong-willed. Many scholars that discuss Judith, focus on the “true form” of Judith, how she is perceived, the political significance of the sculpture, and the meaning behind her becoming a symbol for the Medici. Although these are significant in understanding Donatello’s Judith, many of the other scholars fail to focus on how she is portrayed and how her image has evolved. This thesis will contribute to other articles by providing a thorough analysis of Donatello’s Judith and focusing on how she is portrayed to create an understanding of how Judith has evolved from being portrayed as weak, feeble, and indifferent to lively, vivid, dedicated, and strong-willed.