This painting is a depiction of the Biblical tale of Judith, a beautiful widow, beheading Holofernes, a brutish Assyrian general who had come to destroy her hometown (village, whatever). The story behind this painting, and the many others that depict this incident, is that Judith, a widow who lived in the village of Bethulia, went to the tent of Holofernes, who was the general of an invading army. She was allowed into his tent because of her beauty – because what else do invading generals want but to sleep with the local women and then destroy their homes? Once there, she got him drunk, he passed out, and she decapitated him. His head was carried away in a basket and Judith was the hero of the day, until – as I assume probably happened – someone told her to go wash the dishes or something because patriarchal society is nothing new.
I just want to say – this painting in particular is one of my favorites. Judith is hella badass, chopping off Holofernes’s head without so much as a look of disgust on her face. Her brow is knotted in determination, and despite the fact that she’s wearing a beautiful dress, her arms are strong and she doesn’t care that she’s getting blood all over herself – and it is really spurting. Her maid also wears a look of concentration, showing that this is both something that needed to be done AND that these women are much, much stronger than they may appear. I firmly believe that women are the heroes of Renaissance art. They always have the power, whether or not we see it at first glance.