artemisia gentileschi judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
The 2001 exhibition catalogue on Artemisia Gentileschi and her father Orazio remarked that “the painting is generally recognized as Artemisia’s finest work”.  . Others have concurred, and the art historian Letizia Treves concluded that with this painting “Artemisia rightly takes her place among the leading artists of the Italian Baroque.” 
This painting is attributed to Artemisia due to her adoption of Caravaggesque technique and composition.  Despite following the works of their contemporary Caravaggio, Artemisia and her father developed their own independent styles.  The explicit nature of the artist’s interpretation has led writers to believe that there is a deeper meaning behind Artemisia’s Judith, drawing back to the rape trial against Agostino Tassi. Identification with the protagonist of the painting is also believed to be an indicator of ownership.  The precise date of execution is up for debate, since Artemisia had been traveling around Italy at this time.  
The stoic figures of Judith and her maidservant, however, are trademarks of Artemisia’s own work. Holofernes’ grisly end was just one of many stories that inspired her brutal depictions of resolute young females conquering male adversaries. No source material communicated female resilience quite so adeptly as the Book of Judith. When the Assyrians lay siege to the city Bethulia, the widow Judith captivated general Holofernes with her beauty. The enemy commander dropped his guard, invited the young lady into his tent, and fell into a deep, drunken sleep, allowing Judith to saw his head off and becoming fodder for thousands of morbid Baroque paintings.
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For me, it becomes clear looking at Artemisia Gentileschi’s work that she doesn’t just paint the next commission in line, it’s that she portrays what seems like a real event. I am sure that comes from her hard life, something I touched on in an Apex Book Company blog many years ago. I think she put her heart and soul into every piece, and this piece is definitely no exception.
Knowing how difficult a life Gentileschi had, and the terrible events she endured, I like to think that her paintings represent the revenge and retribution that so many need. I look at Gentileschi’s painting here, and I hope that it not only gave her satisfaction, but a small sense, however tiny, that retribution against the devils of the world can and does happen.
1. Identification & Artist Bio:
Artemesia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter and is considered today to be one of the most accomplished artists of that time. She was the first woman to be accepted to be a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, Italy. The content of her paintings were mainly female figures from various myths, along with the bible. Because Gentileschi was a woman, and because she was raped and went forth prosecuting the rapist (which was very unheard of at the time, her achievements were overlooked for generations. Today, she is known to be one of the most progressive and expressionist painters of the baroque period.
Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman to get accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing); she was considered a respected artist of her time along with her male peers. Her career successfully continued after the initial phase, and in 1638 together with her father Artemisia moved to England to work as a court painter at the court of Charles I of England (whose collection includes one of Artemisia’s paintings – the Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting). As the painter grew older, her work became more graceful which has to be the result of her conscious articulation of a woman painter.
Among the pioneering women artists from the Baroque period there was the celebrated Italian Artemisia Gentileschi. Although she came from the established artistic family, her father being famous Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi, and was exposed to the traditional set of themes (historical/religious), she managed to form specific and recognizable painterly approach based on a feminist agenda.