judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes why did she do it
Much like her father, Gentileschi’s style in the formative years of her career followed that of Caravaggio, mirroring his methods of dark shadows and overall execution.  The artist utilized dramatic forms of chiaroscuro, most notably across Judith’s half-lit face, her hand shielding the glow of the candle. Jesse M. Locker expresses this particular painting’s definitive qualities that quintessentially represent the dramatization within baroque art.  Vivid tones of color, ranging from Judith’s golden dress to the deep crimson curtain, contribute to an elemental component that is unique to Gentileschi’s style, unlike Caravaggio.  The shadow cast on Judith’s face resembles a crescent moon which is a symbol of Artemis, a reoccurring connection the artist made between the female figures.  Artemisia’s Judith is always seen with a weapon at the ready.  Gentileschi painted the figures and components of the composition with a strong sense of realism. Art historian Mary Garrard attributes this detailed attention to the influence of the Caravaggesque style. The dramatic lighting, playing with the limited glow from the candle and dense shadows, builds tension in the scene.  The style of this composition is compared to Adam Elsheimer’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, with the tenebristic lighting from the single candle and the drapery at the top corner of the canvas.  The dramatically shadowed crossing of Judith’s arms connects to the manner and style of Simon Vouet’s Temptation of St. Francis, along with the theme of sexual power.  There is still much debate over the specific date in which this painting was created, however most scholars secure it within the mid-1620’s. 
Gentileschi was trained to compose still life paintings and portraits, which was common for female artists of the time. Apart from this, she also developed an interest in historical compositions that derived from both biblical and mythological stories.  Women artists were limited to particular categories of art to paint from because they were deemed appropriate by societal expectations of the era. Gentileschi was educated by her father, among other artists, to produce these portraits, still lifes, and history paintings. It was frowned upon for women to study the anatomical structures of nude models, especially as a virtuous unmarried woman. Susan Dixon notes that historians have analyzed Gentileschi’s works that emphasize the naked female form, building on the idea that the female artist may have used her own body as a reference in the mirror.  It has been considered that the gender-based limitations of her Roman hometown, along with the absence of a mother for the majority of her life, assisted in Gentileschi’s interest and focus on powerful female figures.  Speculation from Elizabeth Cropper asserts that Gentileschi painted the feminine figures in a more heroic lighting, attributing characteristics of tragedy and sadness to these women, while also justifying their actions from an ethical standpoint.  This representation of women in positions of power communicated Gentileschi’s endorsement of female strength and potential.  To the knowledge of historians, Gentileschi’s patrons were all male.  According to a string of Venetian poems that were sent to Gentileschi in 1627, those that followed the artist and purchased her work did so because she was female. Even though her figures were painted in the nude, contemporary critics expressed that there was more of a sensual wonder related to her womanly traits as an artist.  After practicing and honing her artistic abilities for only three years, Gentileschi’s father Orazio described his daughter’s talent as having superseded the level of the masters.  Others who were very close to her, like academician Joachim von Sandrart, commended her work from which exuded “knowledge and rationality”, traits that were not normally connected to women of the time. 
In European art, Judith is very often accompanied by her maid at her shoulder, which helps to distinguish her from Salome, who also carries her victim’s head on a silver charger (plate). However, a Northern tradition developed whereby Judith had both a maid and a charger, famously taken by Erwin Panofsky as an example of the knowledge needed in the study of iconography.  For many artists and scholars, Judith’s sexualized femininity interestingly and sometimes contradictorily combined with her masculine aggression. Judith was one of the virtuous women whom Van Beverwijck mentioned in his published apology (1639) for the superiority of women to men,  and a common example of the Power of Women iconographic theme in the Northern Renaissance.
In the late Renaissance, Judith changed considerably, a change described as a “fall from grace”—from an image of Mary she turns into a figure of Eve.  Early Renaissance images of Judith tend to depict her as fully dressed and desexualized; besides Donatello’s sculpture, this is the Judith seen in Sandro Botticelli’s The Return of Judith to Bethulia (1470–1472), Andrea Mantegna’s Judith and Holofernes (1495, with a detached head), and in the corner of Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel (1508–1512). Later Renaissance artists, notably Lucas Cranach the Elder, who with his workshop painted at least eight Judiths, showed a more sexualized Judith, a “seducer-assassin”: “the very clothes that had been introduced into the iconography to stress her chastity become sexually charged as she exposes the gory head to the shocked but fascinated viewer”, in the words of art critic Jonathan Jones.  This transition, from a desexualized image of Virtue to a more sexual and aggressive woman, is signaled in Giorgione’s Judith (c. 1505): “Giorgione shows the heroic instance, the triumph of victory by Judith stepping on Holofernes’s severed, decaying head. But the emblem of Virtue is flawed, for the one bare leg appearing through a special slit in the dress evokes eroticism, indicates ambiguity and is thus a first allusion to Judith’s future reversals from Mary to Eve, from warrior to femme fatale.”  Other Italian painters of the Renaissance who painted the theme include Botticelli, Titian, and Paolo Veronese.
In this painting, we really feel the action after the violence. In one of her other paintings, Gentileschi painted the actual moment of the beheading in all its bloody glory. Here she painted the aftermath, the escape complete with the separated head of Holofernes. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Gentileschi composed a scene not of triumph, or even detachment, rather it is one of suspense. These two women have finished the first part of their plan, and now they need to get away with it.
Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes”
Finally, it is evident why Judith Slaying Holofernes is such an iconic painting and a symbol of women’s emancipation. It may be regarded as well the same in the contemporary moment in the context of the MeToo movement and the growing debate concerning gender equality.
Various art historians analyzed the painting, however, many interpretations not only of the painting but of Artemisia Gentileschi’s entire oeuvre emerged in the light of Linda Nochlin’s iconic feminist essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists from 1971.
This was painted at about the same time as Artemisia’s rape and Tassi’s subsequent trial, and it is generally believed that Tassi was the model for Holofernes, she cast herself as Judith, and the female companion who failed to come to her aid during the rape (and failed to give evidence in her support at the trial) was the maid. It would therefore be natural to interpret this painting as part of her very understandable response to her own traumatic events.
She painted two similar but slightly different versions of this narrative.