the baroque painting judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes depicts a story from
Judith and Her Maidservant is one of four paintings by the Italian baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi that depicts the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes.  This particular work, executed in about 1623 to 1625, now hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  The narrative is taken from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, in which Judith seduces and then murders the general Holofernes. This precise moment illustrates the maidservant Abra wrapping the severed head in a bag, moments after the murder, while Judith keeps watch. The other three paintings are now shown in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and the Musee de la Castre, Cannes. 
The notion of Judith’s attempt at seducing Holofernes was not something the early Christian Church deemed appropriate. Religious interpretations instead relayed that God enhanced her beauty without interfering with her innocence as a woman, which led to the increased imagery that connected her to the Virgin Mary.  In the Middle Ages, Judith was often cast in the same light as the Virgin, comparing their similar triumphs of beheading characters that represented evil—Holofernes and the devil, respectively.  Steering away from an all-encompassing approach to story-telling, Renaissance art marked the beginning of focusing entirely on the suspenseful moments of Judith’s tale, particularly when Holofernes is beheaded.  A prime example of this is Michelangelo’s pendentive of Judith in the Sistine Chapel.  Mythological symbols have been implemented in the decoration of Judith’s armor, referencing the female war/hunting figures of Artemis, Athena and the Amazons. Donatello is most well-known for this application, but the tradition is connected to other artists, like Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Andrea Mantegna, Giorgio Vasari, Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi.  It is speculated by art historian Mary Garrard that Judith served as a righteous symbol from which people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries looked to in religious and political situations. During the Counter-Reformation, Catholics saw Judith’s conquest of Holofernes as their battle and victory over Protestantism, specifically Truth over Heresy. 
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By 1630, Gentileschi had settled in Naples. Around this same time, she painted one of her best-known self-portraits, “Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” A short time later, in 1635, she completed another religious-themed work, “The Birth of St. John the Baptist.”
Gentileschi continued to paint for the rest of her days, but many experts conclude that her best works were completed in her early career. She died in Naples around 1652. During her lifetime, Gentileschi managed to do the unheard of: thrive in a male-dominated field as a woman. Today, she remains an inspiration, not only for her powerful artwork but for her ability to overcome the limits and prejudices of her time.
Now, to understand better why Judith is presented as a ruthless assassin, it is important to note that during the time painting was made Gentileschi was seventeen years old and she suffered greatly for being exposed to a tiring trial after being raped by her father’s collaborator the artist Agostino Tassi.
Left: Artemisia Gentileschi – Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, between 1615 and 1617. Oil on canvas, 77.5 × 71.8 cm (30.5 × 28.2 in). Collection Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Image creative commons. / Right: Artemisia Gentileschi – Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, between 1638 and 1639. Oil on canvas, 98.6 x 75.2 cm cm (38.8 x 29.6 in). Royal Collection. Image creative commons