Artemisia Gentileschi

In my opinion, art is a way to express your emotions, which is followed by your own creativity on how you view things. Artemisia Gentileschi displays the style of art in the in the Baroque period. Artemisia was described as “Caravaggista”, because she followed Caravaggio’s example. She painted two versions of Judith Slaying Holofenes; the Naples and the Florence version:

  • Judith Slaying Holofenes; Naples
  • Date: 1612-1613
  • Oil on canvas
  • Size: 1.59×1.26m
  • Location: Museo di Capolodimonte, Naples.
  • Judith Slaying Holofenes, Florence
  • Date:  1614-1620
  • Oil on canvas
  • Size 6’ 61/3” x 5’ 4”
  • Location: Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

In both of her paintings, she used tenebrism in which Caravaggio favored. There are similarities and differences between the two paintings. The first one create in Naples does not have much of contrast yet more browns, reds, and blacks. It is, indeed more detailed. The shadows are much darker and the emphasis on the sword is more visible. The other painting, created in Florence, has less contrast, but more enriching colors. The blood is much more dramatic and slightly less detailed. The shadows are lighter and the emphasis on the sword is less visible.

My overall reaction to this painting gave me a general realization to how brutal reality can be. I was fascinated by the slashing contrasts of lights and darks that show the true art of a woman.

The reason for her creating this painting was by being inspired by Caravaggio’s painting: Judith Beheading Holofernes. The dramatic and brutally graphic version of a biblical scene is represented, because it tells of the Jewish female, from an Apocryphal work of the Old Testament, hero who seeks out the Babylonian general Holofernes in his tent, makes him drunk, and then beheads him.  The blood is splattered everywhere while Judith and her maidservant struggling with the sword to complete the task. Her painting was her most arguably powerful with such immediacy, drama, and violence. Her painting reveals the attention to the half-served head and the immense blood wound. The originally theme is of a woman’s struggles in a man’s worlds. It was told that the reason for such a violent painting was because of her being raped. I guess it is a repressed vengeance theory towards her artwork.

I believe that the composition is her way of express to the world that women also evoke power and justice just as many men can.  How the bodies are painted gives the impression of space that is much more detailed and dramatic then Caravaggio’s painting. It shows the white being stained with Holofernes’ blood. Judith is dressed in an off-the-shoulder dark blue dress wielding her sword. She seemed strong and deliberate on decapitating Holofernes. Judith is actually leaning away from the carnage of the blood supposedly from getting her dress stained. As I see it, her facial expression, especially her eyebrows exhibits concentration and determination on the decapitation. Her left hand is grabbing on his hair to keep him from moving around.  I see how the maid is also holding him down preventing struggle and keeping his arm tight and locked in place from movement. The background is mostly black and other colors of reds and browns to bring the theme together. I can realize that Artemisia wanted to give the viewers’ attention to the center of the painting where more dramatic lights are being displayed.  In addition, the grip of her hand on the sword cutting his neck shows great emphases of color and contrast. The viewpoint of the entire painting gives a one word heavy theme: killing.

Judith slaying Holofernes has its own history. Judith resembles the personality of Salone in the Gospel. The story concerns a Jewish widow named Judith, who, in an effort to stop an enemy’s attack against her people, entered the rival camp with her maidservant to confront its leader, Holofernes. The women gained entrance into the camp by charming the guards with their physical beauty, which also captivated Holofernes. He was tricked into believing that the women supported his army’s cause and accepted Judith’s counsel to postpone his plans of attack. She was permitted to bring her own meat to the table in a bag, and every night she was allowed to exit the encampment with her servant to pray. After four days of doing this, she served him with wine thus becoming drunk and passing out. While he was sleeping, cut of his head. Judith Victorious, she and her maidservant returned home with his severed head becoming a civic hero for their people.

Other people around the world know that Artemisia had major history, which inflicts on to her artwork in the Baroque period. Artemisia was a Roman artist and the disciple of Caravaggio. She was born to Orazio among four brothers, but chose to follow in her fathers footsteps. She completes her first known painting at the age of 12, but at the age of 17, she endured a horrific event, which leads to her most famous painting: Judith Slaying Holofernes. “Agostino put his hand on my breast, and he took my hand and said: ‘let’s walk together’”. They walked around the room and she told him that she might have a fever. He says that he has more of a fever than she does. “After we had walked around two or three times, when we were in front of the bed room door, he pushed me in and locked the door” (181). There followed a more graphic and sickening details.

Her painting after this event reflected her intensity in her artwork. The subject of her art was now distinct and precise. Out of nearly 60 paintings, she is currently believed to have completed, over 40 have women in certain roles on the defensive or having power over men.

I wonder how a seventeen-year-old female like Artemisia can paint such a magnificent painting such as this. It is very amazing and courageous as well, but I also do wonder why she painted two versions. She shows amazing tenebrism on an advanced level in both versions so I do not think anything was wrong with the first one she painted. I honestly believe that her painting of Judith Slaying Holofernes is much better than Caravaggio’s and I think she surpassed him as a painter. I could be wrong, but that is my personal opinion.

Artemisia Gentileschi is a real woman who created an amazing painting Judith Slaying Holofernes. She accomplished that women are intellectually inferior to men and showed women’s struggles in a man’s world. She portrayed herself as skillful, imaginative, and defined. There is no doubt in my mind that if this would to reoccur again she would have shown the same style and talent, probably better than before.

Works Cited

“Artemisia Gentileschi.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 16 Feb. 2009 <;.

“Fine Art: Artemisia Gentillschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes.” Expert Archive Questions. Ed. Soren Holmstrup. 16 Feb. 2009 <;.

“Judith Slaying Holofernes.” The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi. Ed. Christine Parker. 16 Feb. 2009 <;.

Kleiner, Fred S., and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. 12th ed. 2005.

Rabb, Theodore. Renaissance Lives : Portraits of an Age. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Randolph, Adrian W. Engaging Symbols : Gender, Politics and Public Art in 15th-Century Florence. New York: Yale UP, 2002.


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