(Left) Artemisia Gentileschi Judith and her maidservant with the head of Holofernes (1625) Oil on canvas, 6’ x 4’ 7” Detroit Institute of Art.  (Right) Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes. 1598. Oil on canvas, 5’ 9” x 7’ 7”. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.

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Artemisia Gentileschi is one of Caravaggio’s most famous followers, but scholars disagree on which artist was more successful in their rendering of this subject.

Subject: Judith with the severed head of Holofernes, an invading general of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, is a story from the Hebrew Bible. It was said that Nebuchadnezzar dispatched Holofernes to take vengeance on Israel, a nation that had resisted his reign. The general laid siege to the Hebrew city of Meselieh, which almost surrendered. It was saved by Judith, a beautiful Hebrew widow who entered Holofernes’ s camp and seduced him. Judith then beheaded Holofernes while he was drunk. She returned to Bethulia with the disembodied head, and the Hebrews defeated the enemy. Artemisia often used the theme of women getting revenge toward aggressive men due to her rape by a fellow student while both were students in her father’s studio.

So, what do you think: which artist paints it better?

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