Judith Beheading Holofernes (Caravaggio)

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Judith Beheading Holofernes
Italian: Giuditta e Oloferne
Judit y Holofernes, por Caravaggio.jpg
Yearc. 1598–1599
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions145 cm × 195 cm (57 in × 77 in)
LocationGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Judith Beheading Holofernes is a painting of the biblical episode by Caravaggio, painted in c. 1598–1599.[1] The widow Judith first charms the Syrian general Holofernes, then decapitates him in his tent; the painting was rediscovered in 1950 and is part of the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome.

A second painting on the exact same subject (see below) and dated to 1607, attributed by several experts to Caravaggio but still disputed by others, has been rediscovered by chance in 2014 and went on sale in June 2019 as "Judith and Holofernes".[2]


The deuterocanonical Book of Judith tells how Judith served her people by seducing and pleasuring Holofernes, the Syrian General. Judith gets Holofernes drunk, then seizes her sword and slays him: "Approaching to his bed, she took hold of the hair of his head" (Judith 13:7–8).

Caravaggio's approach was, typically, to choose the moment of greatest dramatic impact: the moment of decapitation itself; the figures are set out in a shallow stage, theatrically lit from the side, isolated against the inky black background. Judith's maid Abra stands beside her mistress to the right as Judith extends her arm to hold a blade against Holofernes's neck; lying on his stomach, neck contorted as he turns his head towards his assassin, he is vulnerable. X-rays have revealed that Caravaggio adjusted the placement of Holofernes' head as he proceeded, separating it slightly from the torso and moving it minutely to the right; the faces of the three characters demonstrate the artist's mastery of emotion, Judith's countenance in particular showing a mix of determination and repulsion. Artemisia Gentileschi and others were deeply influenced by this work; while they even surpassed Caravaggio's physical realism, it has been argued that none matched his capture of Judith's psychological ambivalence.[3]

The model for Judith is probably the Roman courtesan Fillide Melandroni, who posed for several other works by Caravaggio around this year; the scene itself, especially the details of blood and decapitation, were presumably drawn from his observations of the public execution of Beatrice Cenci a few years before.[4]

Attribution of second version[edit]

Judith Beheading Holofernes (attributed)
Caravaggio - Judith and Holophernes Toulouse - High Definition.jpg
ArtistCaravaggio (?)
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions144 cm × 173.5 cm (57 in × 68.3 in)
LocationCollection of J. Tomilson Hill

A painting believed by some to be Caravaggio's second version of Judith Beheading Holofernes was discovered in Toulouse in 2014. An export ban was placed on the painting by the French government while tests were carried out to establish its authenticity.[5][6] In February 2019 it was announced that the painting would be sold at auction after the Louvre had turned down the opportunity to purchase it for €100 million,[7] it was instead bought by art collector and hedge fund manager J.Tomilson Hill for an undisclosed amount of money shortly before the planned auction, in June 2019;[8][2] the new owner is a board member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Judith Beheading Holofernes". www.artble.com. Artble. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Alex Greenberger (25 June 2019). "Caravaggio Painting Estimated at $170 M. Sold Privately Ahead of Auction in France". ARTnews. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |magazine= (help)
  3. ^ Catherine Puglisi, Caravaggio (Phaidon, 1998) pp. 137–138
  4. ^ Peter Robb, M: The Caravaggio Enigma (Duffy and Snellgrove, 1998), p. 96
  5. ^ "Painting thought to be Caravaggio masterpiece found in French loft". BBC News Online. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  6. ^ McGivern, Hannah. "'Caravaggio' found in French attic unveiled in Milan". Art Newspaper. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  7. ^ Brownc, Mark (28 February 2019). "'Lost Caravaggio' rejected by the Louvre may be worth £100m". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  8. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (2019-06-27). "Mystery Buyer of Work Attributed to Caravaggio Revealed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  9. ^ BBC World News, 25 June 2019