Judith with the Head of Holofernes, by Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665).

Oil on canvas, 236.5cm by 183cm, in a carved and giltwood frame. Signed l.r.: ELISABta.. SIRANI. F. 1658.

The painting depicts the story of Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow, who seduced the Assyrian general Holofernes, who had been beseiging her town, threatening to destroy it and its inhabitants.

Afterwards, she beheaded him as he slept, before taking his head in a sack to show the town’s Hebrew defenders.

Without their leader, the Assyrians were soon defeated by the jubilant Jews.

Elisabetta Sirani initially trained in her father’s workshop, later founding her own studio and an academy for fellow female painters.

She became a leading artist in progressive Bologna, where women artists were celebrated, and supported her whole family financially for some time before her early death at the age of twenty seven.


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