PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008





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Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Christofano ALLORI, 1613; oil on canvas, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

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Judith shows the head of Holofernes; this enemy general was besieging Judith’s city.

In her left hand, she holds the head she has just cut off and seizes the bloody sword in the other. This weapon is that of the general she has just killed.

Her maid-servant is present, for afterwards she will help Judith to put the head into a bag.

The face of the murderer expresses determination and calm; that of the corpse is rather that of a drunkard.




The details vary very little: a dog is sometimes added to recall Judith’s fidelity to her dead husband, but the costumes are quite varied.

The scene of the murder is rather rare; there Judith is seen cutting off the general’s head with her sword while the maid-servant helps her. Both women are overcome with wild rage while Holofernes’ face expresses pain.

Some artists of the Renaissance or the 20th century portray Judith naked; which goes against the text that says exactly that the drunken general falls asleep before making love with the young woman.


It should not be confused with


Salome receiving the Head of John the Baptist; Bernardino LUINI; c. 1527; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

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Salome carries the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

This macabre vision refers to the death of John the Baptist asked for by Salome’s mother. The platter is the element allowing the spectator to recognize Salome who does not carry any weapon.

Salome’s face is marked with deep gentleness, which contrasts with Judith’s fierce determination.

See Salome and the Death of John the Baptist.


Jael kills Sisera by driving a Stake into his Temple; illustrator of “Speculum humanae”, Cologne; c. 1450; manuscript MMW 10 B 34; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

 Museum Meermanno


Jael killing Sisera is a murder which could be easily confused with that of Judith.

The Book of Judges (Chapters 4 and 5) tells the story of Deborah who succeeds in vanquishing a Cananean chief named Sisera. The latter takes refuge at Jael’s house but when he is asleep she kills him by driving a stake into his temple with a hammer.

The woman’s attitude is similar but the weapons are quite different and this horrible murder is seldom represented.




Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Christofano ALLORI, 1613; oil on canvas, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Web Gallery of Art




The Book of Judith, chapters 10 to 13

The Book of Judith is a sort of parable situated in a historical context. It tells about the siege of the Jewish city of Bethulia by the Assyrian general Holofernes. The city, deprived of water, must surrender when Judith, a young virtuous widow, convinces the chiefs of the town to let her act. After praying for the success of her mission, she goes to the enemy camp and passes herself off as a renegade. Her beauty allows her to go near Holofernes. During a drinking bout, the latter asks to be left alone with her and he falls asleep.

Then Judith, standing by his bed, said in her heart, O Lord God of all power, look at this present upon the works of mine hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem.
Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence,
And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day.
And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.

and soon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid;
And she put it in her bag of food: and the two of them passed the camp.

(Judith 13:4-10; apocrypha; original King James Version of 1611)

The enemies, having lost their chief, breaks camp and Judith is feasted as a heroine in Jerusalem, before resuming the quiet life of a rich and pious widow.



Judith whose name means “the Jewess” is the personification of the Jewish people, a national heroine who knows how to use her woman’s weakness and her chastity to overcome the strength and lust of an enemy general.











Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Christofano ALLORI, 1613; oil on canvas, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

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Holophernes’ beheading.

Judith’s relentlessness also shows her inexperience


Judith Beheading Holofernes; Michelangelo Merisi da CARAVAGGIO; c. 1598; oil on canvas; Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Antica, Rome




Judith beheading Holofernes; Artemisia GENTILESCHI; 1620; oil on canvas; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

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Here Holofernes’ beheading is put into its context: a tent and military camp  

Judith beheading Holofernes with his own Sabre; illuminated miniature; manuscript MMW 23 folio 268v; Meermanno Museum; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno



Judith and Holofernes; Paolo VERONESE; after 1581; oil on canvas; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen, France



Judith and Salome

The closeness of the two heroines: Klimt, who had painted several Judith’s, has deliberately added Salome’s name on it. Cranach has built his two paintings in the same register.


Judith I (Salome); Gustav KLIMT; 1905; oil on canvas; Österrisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.




On the left = Salome; Lucas CRANACH; c. 1530; oil on wood; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

On the right = Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Lucas CRANACH; c. 1530; oil on canvas; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

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Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Christofano ALLORI, 1613; oil on canvas, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

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Judith is not only a Jewish heroine

she has become a killer of tyrants, a model for crushed peoples. Her example was magnified in the Renaissance and she was related to Lucretia, the Roman woman, whose rape, then her suicide, was at the origin of the establishment of the republic in 509 BC.


The Suicide of Lucretia;
TITIAN; 1515; oil on canvas;
 Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.



   Judith is the Queen of hearts in the pack of cards.

She is in the company of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, who is the Queen of diamonds. Some think they represent beauty and piety respectively.





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008