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Caravaggio - Judith beheads Holofernes

by Stephan Franck and Alexandra Tuschka

Almost without effort, the beautiful Judith separates the head of the Assyrian commander Holofernes from his body. The long sword seems to have hit the carotid artery - blood spurts powerfully like a fountain. The girl has one hand clasped in Holofernes' hair. She is supported by an old maid who brings her profile and a cloth into the picture from the right. Her wrinkled skin and fixed gaze, which betrays no pity, contrast skillfully with the young and beautiful woman beside her. With the cloth in her hand, she will manage the removal of the head. The old maid is traditionally present in this image subject and is explicitly mentioned in the biblical source text.

With the courageous act, which is so brutally represented here, the girl freed a part of the Israelites. According to this, she had been able to easily gain access to Holofernes through her beauty, since he promised himself a night of love with her. But she made him drunk and beheaded him.

Caravaggio, who as usual worked strongly with light-dark contrasts, shows an impressive work by depicting the lying Holofernes highly realistic. His left hand clutches in pain in the sheet, his mouth is wide open. Opposite him are Judith, who bends her face backward with strain, and the determined old woman in the right background of the picture. Only a red curtain, which protrudes into the picture like a triangle, accentuates the background.

Typical of the Baroque period, Caravaggio chose one of the dramatic climaxes of the story, the moment that symbolizes victory over tyranny. Holofernes, who could not be shown here more vulnerable, lies drunk and naked in bed and had certainly imagined this night differently.

Caravaggio - Judith beheads Holofernes

Oil on canvas, 1598/1599, 145 x 195 cm, Palazzo Barberini in Rome


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