who painted judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes
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 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.” 
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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.
Where Gentileschi excelled was giving a perfect tension to the scene using composition and lighting. The harsh light concentrates the eye on Judith, surrounded by a darkness indicative of the threat around them both. That light focuses the eye in two areas, complimented by the swing of her arms: her raised hand in the light and the sword in the other. That composition challenges the viewer with the apparent threat around them. The eye, and the viewer’s suspense, are torn between the raised concern of detection above and the readiness for battle below.
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.
6. Intended Function/Purpose:
This painting portrays moments following the most well known scene from the Christian old testament Book of Judith. Judith (the woman in yellow) is shown alerted by a noise off-canvas as her and Abra (the woman below) are in the process of fleeing Holofernes’ tent. Holofernes was an assyrian general who was about to destroy Judith’s home town. Entranced by Judith, Holofernes invited her to his tent to seduce her. Judith accepted the invitation, but with intention of killing him. Holofernes passed out due to alcohol intoxication, and Judith beheaded him. This painting shows Judith and her maidservant minutes after the beheading, about to flee the tent with his head. It is widely believed by historians and is hinted at by Gentileschi herself that Judith in this painting is actually Gentileschi. Gentileschi’s self portraits look startlingly similar to Judith in this work and in Gentileschi’s other painting “Judith slaying Holofernes” which takes place before this work. Holofernes is said to symbolize Agostino Tassi, who was her former mentor and the rapist who she convicted. In “Judith slaying Holofernes”, Judith beheading Holofernes graphically symbolizes the rage and humiliation she felt after she publicly admitted that she was sexually assaulted by her mentor. This work is supposed to convey how attentive and vigilant she was after her reputation was ruined because of something that was out of her control, and that she had no remorse with accusing him of rape.
Namely, the young painter was taught by her father and around that time she was just starting to develop as an artist. In painterly terms, this work reflects the dominating influence of Caravaggio, while in psychological terms it shows the young painter’s inner struggle with trauma. The other paintings which also manifest Gentileschi’s discontent with her own status and the status of women in general at the time are Susanna and the Elders and Madonna and Child. It is remarkable how she managed to transmit the message concerning the patriarchy and repression through painstaking body movements and facial expressions.
Caravaggio – Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598–1599. Oil on canvas, 145 cm × 195 cm (57 in × 77 in). Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Image creative commons