(b. 1431, Isola di Carturo, d. 1506, Mantova)


c. 1495
Tempera on wood, 31 x 18 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Once owned by King Charles I of England, this painting illustrates an episode from the Old Testament which relates how the Israelite Judith by guile killed the Assyrian general Holofernes and thus saved her beleaguered city. Painted with minute detail, Judith and her handmaiden finish their deed with tragic calm.

Among Mantegna's works there are several representations of Judith that, without exception, show a comparatively peaceful scene in which Judith is placing the severed head of Holofernes in a bag. During the Baroque, in contrast, the dramatic central moment of the action was preferred, as Judith, often with great effort, decapitates Holofernes.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 17 minutes):
Alessandro Scarlatti: La Giuditta, oratorio, Part I (excerpts)