The violence and drama of Caravaggio’s 'Judith beheading Holofernes' (1598–99) inspired several imaginative feats of emulation among the early 17th-century artists we now designate his followers: Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Carlo Saraceni, Valentin de Boulogne, Trophime Bigot.
The popularity of the theme with these Italian and foreign artists based in Rome, owed everything to its potential for melodramatic impact. This story of Judith, the beautiful Israelite widow who slayed the invading Assyrian general, Holofernes, thereby saving her people, was legitimised as a subject for Catholic painters and patrons after the Book of Judith was declared canonical for the Catholic Old Testament by the Council of Trent in 1546.
The theme has once again become topical through the recent discovery in France of a possible second, variant version, of the image by Caravaggio himself.
John Gash is a specialist in Baroque art. He has written on aspects of 17th and 18th-century painting and sculpture in Italy, Malta, France, the Netherlands and Britain. Having published several pieces on Caravaggio, he is currently writing a book on Caravaggio’s followers, entitled 'Caravaggism'.
Focus in on one painting with our talks in the Gallery, or explore wider themes in the collection at our in-depth theatre talks.