Francesco’s Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes

An enthralling and captivating painting at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art concerns itself with one of art’s famous subjects in the most striking of ways.

Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes
Ringling Museum
JUDITH HOLDING THE HEAD OF HOLOFERNES by Francesco del Cairo, Italian, 1607-1664; SN 798, oil on canvas

by Daniel Miller

One of my favorite paintings in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is painted by Francesco del Cairo. Judith, seemingly stunned by her own actions, holding on to a decapitated head of a man that did her so wrong, she ended his life in such a grueling way. A very popular theme amongst great artists and storytellers.

Her servant urges her in the background to hurry. Protecting her in the moment of shock and astonishment. Life so quick and unintentional. The dragon has been slain, and the victor relinquished from its wrath. What will now come of the murder? Will her conscious, as well as that of her helper, be able to keep such a secret?

The painter in the classic and obvious Baroque style, captures the subject within its light in such a way as nothing else matters. Consequently, the viewer is tunneled into the gaze of Judith peering into the viewer’s own soul, asking for their utmost secrecy and silence. If we [the viewer] speak too loudly, she may be discovered and sentenced accordingly.

The gaze of Judith, the haste of her accomplice, the strong light and darkness all bringing this great painting to its historical significance and beauty. I encourage you to see it yourself.

One thought on “Francesco’s Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes”

  1. Thank you. Thank you for making me stop and think twice. I would have, and am sure I have, just walked by this…too dark, too religious. I’ll be back at the museum for a good luck.

Comments are closed.