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Judith beheading Holofernes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists such as Gentileschi, Caravaggio and Klimt responded to this Bible story of the widow who killed an enemy general to save her people.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists from the Middle Ages onwards have been inspired by the Bible story of the widow who killed an Assyrian general who was besieging her village, and so saved her people from his army and from his master Nebuchadnezzar. A symbol of a woman's power and the defiance of political tyranny, the image of Judith has been sculpted by Donatello, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, in the case of Caravaggio, Liss and Artemisia Gentileschi, been shown with vivid, disturbing detail. What do these interpretations reveal of the attitudes to power and women in their time, and of the artists' own experiences?

The image of Judith, above is from a tapestry in the Duomo, Milan, by Giovanni or Nicola Carcher, 1555


Susan Foister
Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery

John Gash
Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen


Ela Nutu Hall
Research Associate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, at the University of Sheffield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

50 minutes

Last on

Thu 14 Feb 2019 21:30


John Gash at the University of Aberdeen

Ela Nutu Hall at the University of Sheffield

Rare self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi now on display – National Gallery

‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ by Artemisia Gentileschi – Uffizi Gallery

‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ by Caravaggio – Wikipedia

‘Judith in the Tent of Holofernes’ by Johann Liss – National Gallery

Judith beheading Holofernes – Wikipedia



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Alice Bach, Women, Seduction and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Mieke Bal (ed.), The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People (University of Chicago Press, 2005), especially ‘Feminist Dilemmas with the Art/Life Problem’ by Griselda Pollock

R. Ward Bissell, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: Critical Reading and Catalogue Raisonné (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999)

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Bodo Brinkmann, Cranach: Exhibition catalogue (Royal Academy, 2008)

Keith Christiansen and Judith Mann (eds.), Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi (Yale University Press, 2001)

Mary D. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art (Princeton University Press, 1989)

Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979)

James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (first published 1974; John Murray, 1989)

Howard Hibbard, Caravaggio (Icon, 1983)

Alexandra Lapierre (trans. Liz Heron), Artemisia: The Story of a Battle for Greatness (Vintage, 2001)

Patricia Lee Rubin and Alison Wright, Renaissance Florence: the Art of the 1470s (National Gallery, 1999)

Caroline P. Murphy, Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna (Yale University Press, 2003)

Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock (eds.), Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (Pandora, 1981), especially ‘Framing Judith: Whose Text, Whose Gaze, Whose Language?’ by Ela Nutu

Griselda Pollock, Visions and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art (Routledge, 1988)

Margarita Stocker, Judith, Sexual Warrior: Women and Power in Western Culture (Yale University Press, 1998)

Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, (Yale University Press, 2013)

Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550–1950 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976)

Giorgio Vasari (trans. Gaston du Vere), The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (first published 1550; Knopf, 1996)                          

Rossella Vodret, Caravaggio: The Complete Works (Silvana, 2010)



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