(b. 1593, Roma, d. ca. 1653, Napoli)

Jael and Sisera

Oil on canvas, 86 x 125 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Sisera was a cruel Canaanite leader who ruled the Israelites for twenty years. Barak defeated his nine hundred charioteers by a surprise Israelite attack. Sisera escaped and sought refuge in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. She gave the terrified Canaanite sanctuary. When he fell asleep, she drove a tent peg into his brain. The act fulfilled the prediction of Debora, prophetess and Israelite leader, who foresaw that a woman would slay Sisera.

This famous episode from the Old Testament was painted by the artist at the end of her eight-year stay in Florence. She set the scene not in Jael's tent but in a palace interior that features a large pillar. The dramatic composition shows only the two main actors with the pillar bearing Artemisia's declaration of authorship. The heads of the two protagonists are well preserved, and their physiognomies are far from standard. They truly seem to be intended as portraits.