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Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Signed and dated 1613

Oil on canvas | 120.4 x 100.3 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 404989

The dramatic impact of this painting derives from exaggerated contrast, rather than explicit bloodshed. Judith’s regular features and smooth complexion magnify the despair in Holofornes’ twisted expression, whilst the shaggy tufts of his mane underline the richness of Judith’s golden dress.

Judith of Bethulia’s hometown was invaded by Assyrian forces, led by Holofernes, whom she beheaded to save her city. The figures in this painting are said to be autobiographical, based on an unhappy affair between the artist, presented here as Holofernes, and Maria de Giovanna Mazzafirri, in the guise of Judith.

Acquired by Charles I, probably from the Gonzaga collection, Mantua

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