Judith Beheading Holofernes (1607) Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Caravaggio produced several interpretations of Judith Beheading Holofernes, clearly appreciating how this theme could allow him to provide dramatic paintings that suited his unique painting style. This version was completed in 1607.

This painting features a very real depiction of events, which many other artists would have shied away from in order to avoid shocking the viewer. The Baroque era was about expression and emotion and Caravaggio took this to extremes with some of his own paintings. He liked to put in the brutal events of mythological tales, rather than just providing symbolic meaning. Here, for example, we find Judith in the event of actually slicing off the head of Holofernes, with the sword in her hand and a maid giving her assistance. The victim lies in shock, with blood starting to pour down his front as he comes to a tragic end. In focusing on these moments, the drama was at its most intense and with the added abrupt nature of the artist's lighting, we would be left with some of the most powerful and emotional scenes of early 17th century art.

The painting in front of us was discovered in an attic in France, 2014. Some have argued that without enough documentation or evidence around it's inception, it is most likely to have come from the hand of a Flemish painter by the name of Louis Finson. This is perhaps the reason why the piece was rejected by the Louvre fairly recently for the sum of €100m, as if they were sure it was from Caravaggio's career, it would probably have been worth at least that. Another opinion is that there is a wider belief that a lost Caravaggio painting is around somewhere, and that this piece could just be it. J. Tomilson Hill now owns the artwork and as a board member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he maybe able to find the resources necessary to move nearer a definite attribution.

The artwork is now within a private collection, meaning that it can be seen easily. It is believed to be stored in Toulouse, France at the time of writing, and its inclusion within a private collection means that there is far less detail available on it, when compared to the artist's other paintings that mainly reside in major European art galleries and museums. In most cases, these large institutions have access to a number of resources that can help them to both research the piece itself but also to even scientifically examine it, leading to all manner of discoveries in the centuries in which they have owned each piece. With private collections, this just is not going to be possible and this also makes it harder to solve any questions that might arise around the correct attribution of such pieces. In some cases, however, private owners will loan their works to galleries in order to ensure that more people are able to see them, as well as foregoing any potentially large insurance bills that they would otherwise have to cover.