Four centuries earlier, the Florentine courts similarly gossiped about the messy affair that inspired Allori’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1613). The artist had painted his lover, Maria di Giovanni Mazzafirri, known as La Mazzafirra, as the beguiling but pious widow Judith. She coolly offers his decapitated head, disguised as the Assyrian general Holofernes, to the viewer. Beside Judith, her servant and accomplice is played by La Mazzafirra’s mother, Abra, who Allori partially blamed for their tempestuous relationship.
The beheading scene, from the Book of Judith in the Old Testament of the Bible, was a favorite among artists for centuries across Europe. In the story, Judith enters the camp of Holofernes, who has laid siege to her home, Bethulia. She earns his trust by pretending to betray the Israelites; one night, after he drinks himself into a stupor, she removes his head with his own sword and saves the city.