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Giorgio Vasari, Italian, 1511–1574
Judith and Holofernes, c.1554
oil on panel
42 1/2 x 31 3/8 inches
Friends Fund and funds given in honor of Betty Greenfield Grossman 2:1982

In this painting based on a story from the Bible, the heroine Judith holds a sword above her head as she stands over a sleeping man. Judith and her maid Abra had entered the enemy camp of the Assyrian (A-SEAR-ee-an) army with an offer to reveal secret information. Pretending to be on his side, Judith requested a meeting with the general Holofernes (ho-low-FAIR-knees). The general was captivated by her charm and invited her to a private feast. After the meal, Holofernes fell asleep. Judith took advantage of his condition and beheaded him, leaving the Assyrian forces in chaos. The artist shows Judith as a woman of great strength and power. Judith’s dynamic pose, bulging muscles, and military-like costume highlight her victory. Over time, the story of Judith has come to symbolize triumph over cruelty and oppression.

For younger students:
Make a list of adjectives that describe the painting.
What do you think happened before or will happen after this scene?

For older students:
Why do you think the artist chose to portray this particular moment from the story?
Judith’s courageous act helped save her town from enemy forces. Name some other women who have performed heroic deeds.

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