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  • Writer's pictureTatyana

Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Caravaggio

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Caravaggio

1598-1599 (or 1602)

This dark and violent painting depicts the Biblical Episode in which the widow Judith saves her people by charming the Assyrian general Holofernes in order to later ruthlessly decapitate him in his tent.

Caravaggio’s painting is oozing with melodrama. He has captured the very moment in which Holofernes’s head is being severed from his body. The general’s right arm is still tense and his left hand is clenched, thus intensifying the split second Caravaggio has chosen to capture. Holofernes’s expression is frozen in one of utter shock. He is screaming helplessly in his last few seconds of life.

Judith, who seizes Holofernes’s hair and slashes through his neck with the general’s own sword, is being shown drawing back in disgust at the jet stream of blood bursting forth from her victim’s neck. Her furrowed brow evokes a sense of determination and strength. Beside her, an elderly servant strains forward with her hands eagerly clutching the bag destined to hold the disembodied head. Her eyes are wide with a sense of satisfaction as she watches the murder; she is distressingly bloodthirsty.

Characteristic of Caravaggio’s style, the three figures emerge from a dark background and are lit with intense light and shadow that only adds to the drama of this painted scene.

This painting is ghastly, grim, and oh so violent.

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