Caravaggio (1571 - 1610): Judith Beheading Holofernes

Caravaggio (1571 - 1610): Judith Beheading Holofernes

5/31/2021, 4:58:31 PM
Caravaggio (1571 - 1610): Judith Beheading Holofernes, circa 1598-1599, oil on canvas, 145 x 195 cm, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome Three figures with a red drape in the background: just a few elements, yet capable of orchestrating an utterly realistic theater of contrasts: darkness and light, age and youth, life and death, strength and frailty. Judith is one of the heroines of the Old Testament, a young Jewish widow who saved her people from the besieging Assyrian army. She pretended to ally herself with the enemy and slew their general Holofernes with her own hands, after being welcomed to his camp with a festive banquet. The iconography had been common since the 1400s, yet it had never been depicted with such harsh and spectacular realism. 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. The first instance in which Caravaggio would chose such a highly dramatic subject, the Judith is an expression of an allegorical-moral contest in which Virtue overcomes Evil. In contrast to the elegant and distant beauty of the vexed Judith, the ferocity of the scene is concentrated in the inhuman scream and the body spasm of the giant Holofernes. Caravaggio has managed to render, with exceptional efficacy, the most dreaded moment in a man's life: the passage from life to death. The upturned eyes of Holofernes indicate that he is not alive any more, yet signs of life still persist in the screaming mouth, the contracting body and the hand that still grips at the bed.

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