Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)
Judith Beheading Holofernes
Oil on canvas, 1598-1599
145 cm × 195 cm (57 in × 77 in)
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome, Italy
Judith Beheading Holofernes (Judith and Holophernes), completed in 1599, is an early religious painting by the Italian painter Caravaggio. It is housed in the gallery of Galleria Borghese, in Rome.
The deuterocanonical Book of Judith (included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament of the Bible) tells of the Jewish heroine who seeks out the Babylonian general Holofernes in his tent, makes him drunk, then beheads him. The sight of their commander's bloodstained head on the battlements of Bethulia puts the enemy to flight.
This is the first time Caravaggio chose such a highly dramatic subject. The original bare breasts of Judith were later covered by the semi-transparent blouse. The rough details and the realistic precision (correct down to the tiniest details of anatomy and physiology) have caused some to think that the painting was inspired by two highly publicized Roman utions of the time: that of Giordano Bruno and Beatrice Cenci in 1599.
The model for Judith is Fillide Melandroni, a well-known courtesan of the day, whom Caravaggio used for several other paintings from around this time, notably Saint Catherine and Martha and Mary Magdalene. Leonardo da Vinci's drawing Study for a Caricature inspired the servant woman.
The beheading of Holofernes by Judith was a subject for several works of art by such names as Donatello, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea Mantegna, Giorgione, and Lucas Cranach the Elder, among many. Caravaggio's approach deeply influenced Artemisia Gentileschi, who subsequently painted at least two versions of her own. The painting is dark and dramatic, as was the Baroque trend of the time. Its Caravaggesque style is obvious. The figures are theatrically lit from the side, and stand out from the inky, black background. Judith and her maid Abra stand to the left, partially over Holofernes, who is vulnerable on his back.
Gustav Klimt also painted a Judith holding the head of Holofernes in his famous gilt-laden style.