Open main menu

Judith Slaying Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi, Naples)

  (Redirected from Judith Slaying Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi))

Judith Slaying Holofernes is a painting by the Italian early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi completed between 1614 and 1620.[1] The work shows the scene of Judith beheading Holofernes, common in art since the early Renaissance, as part of the group of subjects art critics have called the "Power of Women", which show women triumphing over powerful men. The subject takes an episode from the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament, which recounts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by the Israelite heroine Judith. The painting shows the moment when Judith, helped by her maidservant, beheads the general after he has fallen asleep drunk.

Judith Slaying Holofernes
Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holofernes - WGA8563.jpg
ArtistArtemisia Gentileschi
Yearc. 1614–20
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions158.8 cm × 125.5 cm ((6' 6" X 5' 4") 78.33 in × 64.13 in)
LocationUffizi Gallery, Florence

The painting is relentlessly physical, from the wide spurts of blood to the energy of the two women as they perform the act.[1] The effort of the women's struggle is most finely represented by the delicate face of the maid, who is younger than in most paintings, which is grasped by the oversized, muscular fist of Holofernes as he desperately struggles to survive. Although the painting depicts a classic scene from the Bible, Gentileschi drew herself as Judith and her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried for and convicted of her rape, as Holofernes. Gentileschi'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] She also painted a later version of the work in the early 1620s, now in the Uffizi in Florence.[3][4]

Related worksEdit

Gentileschi's self-insertion was reversed in an influential composition by Cristofano Allori (c. 1613 onwards), which exists in several versions and copied a conceit of Caravaggio's recent David with the Head of Goliath; here the head is a portrait of the artist, Judith his ex-mistress, and the maid her mother.[5]

Gentileschi painted another painting, Judith and her Maidservant (1613–14), which shows Judith holding a dagger while her maidservant carries a basket containing a severed head. Judith and her Maidservant is displayed in the Palazzo Pitti, in Florence. A further three paintings by Gentileschi, in Naples, Detroit and Cannes, show her maid covering the head of Holofernes, while Judith herself looks out the frame of the picture.

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

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 shows in the naturalism and violence Gentileschi brings to her canvas. In both there is a notable absence of decorative detail in the background.[6] Gentileschi's father, Orazio Gentileschi, was also a famous painter; he was also very much influenced by Caravaggio's style and painted his own version of the tale, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes.


  1. ^ a b Gardner, Helen; Fred Kleiner; Christin Mamiya (2013). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History 14th edition. Wadsworth. p. 683. ISBN 978-1-111-77152-2.
  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 978-0-8018-8225-8.
  3. ^ "Judith and Holofernes". Google Art Project.
  4. ^ Camara, Esperança. "Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes". Khan Academy.
  5. ^ Lucy Whitaker, Martin Clayton, The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection; Renaissance and Baroque, p. 270, Royal Collection Publications, 2007, ISBN 978-1-902163-29-1
  6. ^ "Judith Beheading Holofernes". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved on June 6, 2009.