“Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on the bed, for he was overcome with wine… She went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to the bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said: "Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!". And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed his head from his body… After a moment she went out and gave Holofernes' head to her maid” (Judith 13, 1-10)
This story has been depicted many times from Botticelli to Klimt. The one most people are associated with is that of Baroque artist, Caravaggio. Judith Beheading Holofernes shows the second that the sword cuts across Holofernes’ neck, taking his head off. The painting has a Caravaggio style, a dramatic feel that comes from the canvas.
This is the first time Caravaggio did highly dramatic subject, setting the scene in the darkness of the tent. It is set almost as a dramatic stage play with Judith and her maid along with Holofernes’ body lit from the side for shadows and effect. A deep red curtain frames the scene along with the (death)bed of Holofernes.
On the right side, one can see Judith as she is in the act of beheading Holofernes, her face in almost disgust as does the task at hand to save her town. Though she looks a little fearful she gives off the strong aura that is told in the text. Onside of her is her old maid, waiting to receive the head.
The details of the painting are truly realistic from the sun wrinkled skin of the maid, the stranded muscles of Holofernes, the furrowed brow of Judith, to the physiology seen at the cut on Holofernes’ neck. The sword that Judith holds reflects the light and shadows of the room. The only theatrical thing of the painting one could say is the blood as it sprays from Holofernes’ neck. A fiery-look, almost web-like look, the blood falls to stain the white sheets of Holofernes.
On the left, we see Holofernes in his dying moments as he stares up at his killer his mouth agape in amazement, shock and his eyes pleading as he breaths his last breathe. He clinches the sheets as he screams a silent scream for help.
The feel of the painting tells of the dramatic scene in trepidation and anticipation that is felt from Judith and the maid and the fear from Holofernes. Caravaggio captured the dramatic and stunning seen in only the way he could.