judith and holofernes story
Judith and Holofernes, the famous bronze sculpture by Donatello, bears the implied allegorical subtext that was inescapable in Early Renaissance Florence, that of the courage of the commune against tyranny. 
Judith remained popular in the Baroque period, but around 1600, images of Judith began to take on a more violent character, “and Judith became a threatening character to artist and viewer.”  Italian painters including Caravaggio, Leonello Spada, and Bartolomeo Manfredi depicted Judith and Holofernes; and in the north, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, and Eglon van der Neer  used the story. The influential composition by Cristofano Allori (c. 1613 onwards), which exists in several versions, copied a conceit of Caravaggio’s recent David with the Head of Goliath: Holofernes’ head is a portrait of the artist, Judith is his ex-mistress, and the maid her mother.   In Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith Slaying Holofernes (Naples), she demonstrates her knowledge of the Caravaggio Judith Slaying Holofernes of 1612; like Caravaggio, she chooses to show the actual moment of the killing.  A different composition in the Pitti Palace in Florence shows a more traditional scene with the head in a basket.
and the sword severed his neck!
After she dismisses the leaders, she sets about the business of saving her people. First she prays, then bathes, then she dresses. She removes her widow’s clothing and adorns herself in her finest dresses. She anoints her body with scented oils. As she leaves the town with her handmaid and enters the Assyrian camp, it is quite clear she is relying on her femininity and sexuality to get her to Holofernes. The text is not subtle here, it describes the way the men at the camp are enthralled with her beauty and do whatever she asks.
The canonicity of Judith is rejected by Protestants, who accept as the Old Testament only those books that are found in the Jewish canon.  Martin Luther viewed the book as an allegory, but listed it as the first of the eight writings in his Apocrypha.  Among Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholics consider it to be either an apocryphal or deuterocanonical book. The United States Episcopal Church calls for a reading of Judith 9:1, 11–14 at Mass on the Feast of St Mary Magdalen, July 22. 
Nebuchadnezzar, claimed here to be the king of Nineveh and Assyria. He is so proud that he wants to affirm his strength as a sort of divine power. Holofernes, his Turtan (commanding general), is ordered to take revenge on those who refused to ally themselves with him.
Source: De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling. Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij BV & Uitgeverij Jongbloed, 2004.
The story of this famous duo is told in the deuterocanonical* bible book of Judith, in which the a period of battle between the Israelites and the Assyrians is described.
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 30, 2012.
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