The subject is from the apocryphal Book of Judith, the Old Testament heroine of the Jews in their struggle against oppression. She penetrated the camp of the Assyrian general, Holofernes, pretending to offer assistance in the siege of the city of Bethulia. Alone with the intoxicated general, following a banquet to which she had been invited, she seized his sword and cut off his head.
Liss's painting was probably executed in Rome in the mid- or early 1620s and it owes much to Caravaggio in the dramatic lighting that enhances the remarkably unsqueamish representation of the subject. The design itself may have been suggested by Venetian paintings showing the female nude from behind. The exceptional freedom of the handling, notably in the costume of Judith, serves to focus attention on her action and intensify the sense of agitation in the painting.