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Judith Slaying Holofernes
Artist Artemisia Gentileschi
Year c. 1611–12
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 158.8 cm × 125.5 cm (62.5 in × 49.4 in)
Location Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

Judith Slaying Holofernes is a painting by the Italian early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) completed between 1611–12.[1] The work shows an apocrypha scene from the Old Testament Book of Judith which details the delivery of Israel from the Assyrian general Holofernes. In this scene, Holofernes has been seduced by Judith, who along with her maidservant behead the general after he has fallen asleep drunk.

The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they try to wield the large dagger.[1] The effort of the women's struggle is most finely represented by the delicate face of the maid which is grasped by the oversized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive. Gentileschis's biographer Mary Garrard famously proposed an autobiographical reading of the painting, stating that it functions as "a cathartic expression of the artist's private, and perhaps repressed, rage."[2]

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599. In Caravaggio's version the beheading seems effortless, in stark contrast to Gentileschi's depictions

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes is believed to be the main source of this work, and his influence can be seen in the naturalism and violence Gentileschi brings to her canvas. In both there is a notable absence of decorative detail in the background.[3] Gentileschi's father was a painter of repute; he was also very much influenced by Caravaggio's style, and painted his own version of Judith slaying Holofernes. Artemisia herself painted two near identical versions of the episode; the second was completed sometime between 1614–18, and is held in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.[4]

Judith's beheading of Holofernes has been explored by a number of artists including Giorgione, Titian, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens.

See also


  1. ^ a b Gardner, Helen; Fred Kleiner, Christin Mamiya (2005). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: v. 2: Western Perspective. Wadsworth. p. 583. ISBN 0-4950-0480-4. 
  2. ^ Mary Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi (1989), qtd. in Phillippy, Patricia Berrahou (2006). Painting women: cosmetics, canvases, and early modern culture. JHU Press. p. 75. ISBN 9780801882258. 
  3. ^ "Judith Beheading Holofernes". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved on June 6, 2009.
  4. ^ Elena Ciletti, "Gran Macchina E Bellezza: Looking at the Gentileschi Judiths," in Bal, Mieke (2006). The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People. Chicago: U of Chicago P. pp. 63-106. ISBN 9780226035826.  p. 78.


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