Measures: 84 x 42 cm
Technique: Oil on canvas
Depository: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
Klimt depicts Judith as a femme fatale. She looks down on the viewer, her mouth voluptuously open and with her right hand she strokes the hair of Holofernes. The mountains, the fig trees and the vine stock refer to an Assyrian relief on the Palace of Sennacherib as a biblical place. Judith, also often mentioned as Salome, is a chase widow who defeats the haughty military leader of the Assyrians by plain ruse without seducing Holofernes and in a weak moment decapitates him. Klimt’s brother Ernst made the frame. The painting was first shown at the 8th International Art exhibition in Munich 1901.
The account of the beheading of Holofernes by Judith is given in the deuterocanonical book of Judith, and is the subject of numerous depictions in painting and sculpture. In the story, Judith, a beautiful widow, is able to enter the tent of Holofernes because of his desire for her. Holofernes was an Assyria|Assyrian general who was about to destroy Judith's home, the city of Bethulia, though the story is emphatic that no "defilement" takes place. Overcome with drink, he passes out and is Decapitation|decapitated by Judith; his head is taken away in a basket (often depicted as carried by an elderly female servant).
Artists have mainly chosen one of two possible scenes (with or without the servant): the decapitation, with Holofernes prone on the bed, or the heroine holding or carrying the head. An exception is an early sixteenth-century stained glass window with two scenes. The central scene, by far the largest of the two, features Judith and Holofernes seated at a banquet. The smaller background scene has Judith and her servant stick Holofernes' head in a sack, the headless body standing behind with his arm waving helplessly.
In European art, Judith is very often accompanied by her maid at her shoulder, which helps to distinguish her from Salome, who also carries her victim's head on a silver charger (plate). However, a Northern tradition developed whereby Judith had both a maid and a charger, famously taken by Erwin Panofsky as an example of the knowledge needed in the study of iconography. For many artists and scholars, Judith's sexualized femininity interestingly and sometimes contradictorily combined with her masculine aggression. Judith was one of the virtuous women whom Van Beverwijck mentioned in his published apology (1639) for the superiority of women to men,Loughman & J.M. Montias (1999) Public and Private Spaces. Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Houses, p. 81. and a common example of the Power of Women iconographic theme in the Northern Renaissance.