Group presentation by first year students Amelia Liu, Elizabeth Moran and Samuel Jenkins from History at the University of Lincoln as part of the Early Modern Visual Culture module, led by Dr Anna Marie Roos.
JUDITH BEHEADING HOLOFERNES
OIL ON CANVAS
145 CM X 195 CM
GALLERIA NAZIONALE D'ARTE ANTICA AT PALAZZO BARBERINI, ROME
JUDITH BEHEADING HOLOFERNES
INTRODUCTION TO CARAVAGGIO
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CARAVAGGIO
JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES
THE CONTEXTUAL SIGNIFICANCE
SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE
• 1573 – Michelangelo Merisi is born in Caravaggio.
• 1584 – Began apprenticeship in Milan for four
years with Simone Peterzano.
• 1592-93 – Arrives in Rome
• 1593-96 – Moves about to different workshops to
assist painters. He tries to find his feet as an
• 1599 – Awarded contract for ‘The Calling and
Martyrdom of St Matthew’ on the side walls of
Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi des Francesi.
• 1600-1609 – Violent period resulting his several
• 1610 – Dies on the journey from Naples to Rome.
• First modern painter.
• Sacrificed beauty for the sake of the truth.
• Caravaggio described an artist as ‘a good artist
is one who knows how to paint well and how to
imitate natural objects well.’
• Aims: to provide uncompromising realism, use
textures such as surface details and
psychological reactions that were depicted with
rigorous clarity not seen in painting before.
• The role of imagination in his art was left
• His art described as realistic with nature being
an inspiration to him.
• 18th and 19th century: very little interest in him
but in the modern day his reputation has risen
higher than before.
• Regarded as a prophet of realism and a
creator of an aesthetic revolution.
• To his contemporaries - a phenomenon,
often feared but admired by others who
didn’t understand him.
• Next generation - a gifted painter but a
dangerous influence that undermined
established laws of art.
• Strange and fierce originality.
• ‘Judith beheading Holofernes’ is part of the
transitory state from early to his mature
style. His new interests included
integrating action, expression of emotion
and modelling of forms in relief and an
adoption of dark shadows surrounding and
cutting into forms illuminated by beams of
• The name Judith in Hebrew means
'praised' and 'jewess'.
• Judith is a person from the bible her
own chapter is aptly named 'The Book
• The sacred writer of this Book is
generally believed to be the high
priest Eliachim (called also Joachim).
• A whole book in the Bible is devoted
to Judith, because as a woman she
embodies the power of the people of
Israel to defeat the enemy.
• Within the book Holofernes is a
general of a great army sent by the
King of Nineveh to subdue the Jews.
• In relation to the painting’s story you
can see the widow Judith first charms
the Assyrian general Holofernes, and
then decapitates him in his tent.
• She returns to her people victorious,
holding up the severed head as a
trophy. The Jews regain their courage,
raid the Assyrian camp and drive the
HIS SCREAMS ARE ALMOST AUDIBLE, HIS
TWISTED SPASMS ARE ALMOST VISIBLE.
CARAVAGGIO CAPTURES TO MOMENT OF
DEATH WITH SUCH EXCELLENCE.
HER ANGUISH IS SO CLEAR IN HER
EXPRESSION. THE ACT OF
BEHEADING IS SO GRUESOME AND
YET SHE IS SO VIRTUOUS. THE
INTERNAL CONFLICT OF JUDITH IS
THAT OF JUDITH. HER
TO JUDITH'S BEAUTY
HER (JUDITH'S) VIRTUE
IN THE MOST TYPICAL FASHION AS SEEN IN HIS OTHER WORKS,
CARAVAGGIO CHOOSES THE MOST DRAMATIC, GRUESOME,
SHOCKING POINT OF THE STORY - JUDITH IN THE MIDST OF
BEHEADING GENERAL HOLOFERNES.
CARAVAGGIO CREATES ELEMENTS OF REALISM USING A
COMBINATION OF TECHNIQUE AND MATERIAL.
A COMMON FEATURE OF BAROQUE PAINTINGS IS THE ‘ZIGZAG
COMPOSITION’ THAT CROSSES AT DIAGONALS TO CREATE THE
FEELING OF CAPTURED MOTION, EMOTION AND DRAMA.
CARAVAGGIO POSSESSED THIS SKILL OF ABSORBING THE AUDIENCE
INTO HIS PAINTINGS. THE SCENE EXTENDS AND ALMOST INVITES THE
VIEWER INTO THE ROOM OF THE PAINTING TO BE PART OF IT.
A PROMINENT FEATURE OF CARAVAGGIO'S WORKS.
THE USE IN THIS PAINTING CAPTURES THE VEXED EXPRESSION UPON
JUDITH'S FACE AS WELL AS THE STARK CONTRAST WITH HER ELDERLY MAID
AND HOLOFERNES' SCREAMS.
“HE WHO HAD PUT THE OSCURO IN CHIAROSCURO WAS HIMSELF
WREATHED IN OBSCURITY.” - GILLES LAMBERT. P11
RED AND WHITE ARE THE FOCUS HERE.
THE RED DRAPES EMPHASISE THE
BLOODSHED AND TRIUMPH WHILE THE
WHITE REPRESENTS THE VIRTUE OF
JUDITH. THEY STAND OUT IN THE DARK
ALLOWS FOR LAYERING OF PAINT. THIS
AIDS CARAVAGGIO TO SHOW THE
OVERWHELMING EMOTIONS AND
EXPRESSIONS IN HIS PAINTINGS.
IT ALSO ALLOWS FOR THE BEAUTIFUL
CHIAROSCURO WHICH HE IS SO FAMOUS
• Caravaggio’s significance lies in his refusal to keep to the
expectations of the Renaissance.
• The painting is significant because it was quite a popular
scene to paint, only Caravaggio did it in the most dramatic
manner with such realism.
• The pushing out of the Renaissance into the Baroque Era
by Caravaggio makes him one of the most important
painters of his time.
Kitson, Michael. Caravaggio.Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985.
Kitson, Micheal. The complete Paintings of Caravaggio. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1985.
Lambert, Gilles, Caravaggio ret, G. 2000. Caravaggio, 1571-1610. Köln:
Vsevolozhskaya, S. and I. Linnik. Caravaggui and His Followers. Leningrad: Aurora Art
Langdon, Helen. Caravaggio: A Life. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998.
Marx, Daniel. ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’. Caravaggio biography, Web gallery of art,
accessed 15th March 2014; http://www.wga.hu/frames-