judith beheading holofernes
Judith Beheading Holofernes is a painting of the biblical episode by Caravaggio, painted in c. 1598–1599 or 1602 .  The widow Judith first charms the Syrian general Holofernes, then decapitates him in his tent. The painting was rediscovered in 1950 and is part of the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome. The recent exhibition ‘Dentro Caravaggio’ Palazzo Reale, Milan (Sept 2017-Jan 2018), suggests a date of 1602 on account of the use of light underlying sketches not seen in Caravaggio’s early work but characteristic of his later works. The exhibition catalogue (Skira, 2018, p88) also cites biographer artist Giovanni Baglione’s account that the work was commissioned by Genoa banker Ottavio Costa.
The deuterocanonical Book of Judith tells how Judith served her people by seducing and pleasuring Holofernes, the Syrian General. Judith gets Holofernes drunk, then seizes her sword and slays him: “Approaching to his bed, she took hold of the hair of his head” ( Judith 13:7–8 ).
The allegorical and exciting nature of the Judith and Holofernes scene continues to inspire artists. In the late nineteenth century, Jean-Charles Cazin made a series of five paintings tracing the narrative and giving it a conventional, nineteenth-century ending; the final painting shows her “in her honoured old age”, and “we shall see her sitting in her house spinning”. 
The Book of Judith was accepted by Jerome as canonical and accepted in the Vulgate and was referred to by Clement of Rome in the late first century (1 Clement 55), and thus images of Judith were as acceptable as those of other scriptural women. In early Christianity, however, images of Judith were far from sexual or violent: she was usually depicted as “a type of the praying Virgin or the church or as a figure who tramples Satan and harrows Hell,” that is, in a way that betrayed no sexual ambivalence: “the figure of Judith herself remained unmoved and unreal, separated from real sexual images and thus protected.” 
Oil on canvas, 145 x 195 cm
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome
In the painting, Judith comes in with her maid – surprisingly and menacingly – from the right, against the direction of reading the picture. The general is lying naked on a white sheet. Paradoxically, his bed is distinguished by a magnificent red curtain, whose colour crowns the act of murder as well as the heroine’s triumph.