Judith with the Head of Holofernes

1525, Lucas Cranach the Elder

  • © Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck / Sammlung Rau für UNICEF, Foto: Mick Vincenz
    Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1525
    © Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck / Rau Collection for UNICEF, photo: Mick Vincenz

About the Work

Oil on wood, ⌀ 14.6 cm (inner measurement)

Inscribed on the right-hand edge: "1525" and with a winged dragon

The viewer's gaze is drawn as though through a framing keyhole directly to the bloody scene, making us witnesses to a murder of Old Testament proportions. The victorious Judith of Bethulia smiles faintly as she raises the weapon with which she has just decapitated Holofernes, the militant Assyrian general who wanted to capture Israel at Nebuchadnezzar's behest and could be overpowered only by this woman's ploy. She used her charms to make him compliant and then a generous amount of wine to turn him into a helpless victim. Lucas Cranach the Elder created numerous representations of her between 1525 and 1530. Was this merely a coincidence or did Judith symbolise something during this period of transformation? Was she, as some have suggested, a symbolic figure for the Protestant movement, a heroine of the period between Martin Luther's posting of his theses on the church door and the Peasants' War? Did she stand for a people who, in the battle against the tyranny of the powerful, took up arms to protect its religion? A close friend of Martin Luther and witness at the latter's wedding, Lucas Cranach was a committed follower of the Reformation.

Lucas Cranach was born in Kronach in 1472, he died in Weimar in 1553.

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