Judith and the Head Of Holofernes: A tale of heroism

Judith and the head of Holofernes featured image

There are a lot of stories about heroes who fought wars and shed blood in the battlefields!

But very few people talk about the heroes who did not go to battlefields riding on their horse but silently dragged the enemies away!

Let me tell you a  tale of heroism: a young and wealthy widow who fought for the freedom of her people and her beautiful city, Bethulia! 

The brave and fearless, “Judith”!

It may sound a bit fictitious, but it is a biblical tale that tells the story of how Judith beheaded the Assyrian army general Holofernes! 

Yes, the story is about, Judith and the head of Holofernes!

Gustav Klimt, one of the most famous painters in history, created a masterpiece with Judith as its subject.

mona lisa ad of reproduction

Judith and the Head of Holofernes is a commendable masterpiece by Gustav Klimt painted in 1901. 

“Judith and the Head of Holofernes” was primarily named “Judith I” by Klimt.

This 84 cm x 42 cm masterpiece acted as a stepping stone for the Art Nouveau movement.

Judith by Klimt is now safely housed in Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.

One of the most talked about art pieces when it comes to Klimt’s famous paintings, “Judith is a portrayal of a femme fatale. A woman who seduced the evil to death”. 

Fun fact: more than 40% of this painting is covered with real golden leaves and marks the beginning of Klimt’s “golden period.

Brief About Gustav Klimt

The famous painter Gustav Klimt with his cat.
Image Source: wikipedia

An artist once believed and said that all art is erotic, and his artwork does justice to the statement in a very clear way.

I am talking about the famous painter, who was a successful leader of the Vienna Secession movement and an important part of the Art Nouveau era.

Gustav Klimt!

He was an Austrian symbolist painter and his artworks revolved around women’s bodies as its subject.

His artwork was often regarded as erotic during the initial phase of this success. 

It is believed that Klimt was a womanizer who allegedly shared an intimate relationship with his cousin.

Also, he had 14 or more children with various women, which he never revealed, and unlike other artists, he never painted a self-portrait!

He was one of the most expensive painters of his era, and paintings by Klimt were sold at record-breaking prices as well.

He has curated many landscapes and portraits, and in this particular blog we are going to talk about one of his famous creations, “Judith and the Head of Holofernes.”   

History And Significance 

The portrait of Judith and the Head of Holofernes.
Image Source: wikipedia

This painting might look like any other nude painting, but it has a fair share of biblical history as well.

In this painting, Judith has been portrayed as a modestly dressed lady who is giving a sultry look to its viewers.

But when you refer to its backstory, that’s when the real deal gets unraveled. 

According to history, the plot of this Klimt’s artwork revolves around the decapitation of the Assyrian army general Holofernes. 

Now, as a matter of fact, Judith, who was a young and wealthy widow from the city of Bethulia, musters up the courage to slay the head of Holofernes in order to save her city.

The tale of Judith and the head of Holofernes has been depicted by various artists throughout different eras.

People from the past believe that she was the one who solely saved her city and the people from the cruelty of Holofernes and his army.

When the city of Bethulia was under the dark shadows of the Assyrian army, everyone was scared for their lives.

That’s when Judith decided to step in and plot a plan against the army of Nebuchadnezzar.

Judith used her enchanting beauty and her brilliant mind to sedate Holofernes and then proceed to kill him along with her maidservant.

Judith and her maidservant took the severed head of Holofernes in a sack and returned home.

Judith by Klimt signifies her as a heroine who risked her life and gave herself over to Holofernes’ lust to save her people.

Some believe that it also signifies the aftereffects of lust, and the price which Holofernes had to pay was his own death.

Theories Surrounding The Painting

Judith, a Heroine in Disguise!

Two pictures of Judith, one of them focuses on the facial features of her.
Image Source: medium

The concept around which the painting by Klimt revolves actually depicts a tale of bravery.

In this painting, Klimt has depicted Judith as a femme fatale, and he also claimed that he has portrayed Judith as a person who has saved her nation and herself as well.

She dressed in her best piece of clothing, wore her jewelry, and also did her makeup. 

She collected food and wine in a sack and, along with her maidservant, proceeded towards the Assyrian base.

She was indeed stopped by the guards, but she tricked them into thinking that she was here to share the secrets of Bethulia with Holofernes.

After five days of intensive prayer and planning, she was presented in front of Holofernes, and he was immediately awestruck by her beauty.

He invited her over to his private tent, and they drank wine, and Holofernes drank too much wine, which eventually sedated him.

Capturing the chance, Judith slew Holoferne’s head within two blows of her sword.

It was also said that she never wore fancy clothing and jewelry in her husband’s presence.

After all these accusations, the story of Judith and Holofernes was still known as an example of women’s empowerment, and the painting also marked the beginning of the “golden period” of Klimt.

That is the reason why he used a lot of gold-related references and details in his paintings after the creation of Judith and the head of Holofernes.

Who was Adele to Klimt? 

Photo on the left is Adele Bloch-Bauer's and on the right is Gustav Klimt.
Image Source: wikipedia

Adele Bloch-Bauer was a Viennese socialite and the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.  

They belonged to a wealthy background, and when no one was able to afford Gustav Klimt to paint for them, that’s when Ferdinand came in and paid Gustav to paint the portraits of his wife.

It was believed that Adele and Ferdinand were unable to have children, which was the reason for Ferdinand spoiling Adele.

Adele was a beautiful lady who represented royalty in her looks as well as in her appearance. 

She was a part of the Viennese social community, in which people from rich class societies take part and discuss art.

During the time when Gustav painted Adele, they became close over time, and they started spending more time together and also started to go out more often.

It is assumed that the model or female structure in the painting was Adele, which sparked the rumors of them having an extra-marital affair. 

Klimt has also painted two portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer which goes by the title of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and II.

But these rumors were denied by their niece, Marie. 

You can also watch the following documentary to learn more about Gustav’s life, his relationship with Adele, and his paintings.

Art of the Heist: The Lady In Gold

It is believed that the woman in the painting is Klimt’s friend or lover, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who is portrayed as Judith in the painting.


A man focused on a painting and closely inspecting it.
Image Source: Envato Elements

Paintings were purely a form of expressing the artist’s imagination and re-creating their muse in a way that went well with their style of painting.

Artists also used to paint, as they wanted to create an enchanting image in their viewers’ minds.

The idea of expression through paintings and artworks was something that deeply motivated artists from around the world.

Gustav Klimt established the Vienna Secession movement and was a prime leader in the Art Nouveau movement.

He heavily influenced Egon Schiele, Carl Moll, Alfred Roller, and many other artists from the era of the Vienna Secession. 

Also, this era included the symbolism period which specifically produced some of famous artists like Franz von Stuck, Edvard Munch, Alfred Kubin, etc.

These artists also played important roles in the post-impressionist movement and the modern art movement.

They were influenced by Klimt’s usage of women as his muse for the paintings, but these artists depicted the problems and concerns about women.

They also portrayed how they believe that women have sinister and erotically pleasing powers, which helps them in their survival in a male-dominated society. 

Suggested Read: Post-Impressionist Artists

Themes and Symbols

Patterns on the painting of Judith and the head of Holofernes.
Image Source: PortraitFlip

Judith beheading Holofernes has various elements, which make it disturbingly unique and amazing.

In this painting, Judith and the Head of Holofernes are two differently themed characters.

In some ways, Judith has been severed from herself. Her attire partially hides and partially reveals her body. 

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She is brutally severing her head from her body with the heavy gold choker, that was popular in Vienna in the early 20th century. 

Towards the end of the painting and down her waist, a golden band can be seen, at first it looks like a hem to her garment, but then it proceeds to squeeze through her abdomen like a corset or a belt.

Gustav Klimt was a symbolist painter and the son of a gold engraver.

Composition and Analysis

This painting by Klimt has caused a lot of chaos, and it features two main components.

Judith by Klimt is painted on a rectangular canvas that is twice as tall as it is wide.

The dimensions of the painting make it look like the characters are lively and trapped within the frame. 

It also makes Judith look like she is closer to the viewer.

Even though Gustav Klimt’s ‘Judith’ has intriguing details, it has a disturbing backstory. 

One of the main components in Judith and Holofernes is the beautiful Judith and the other is the head of Holofernes.

Focusing on the curation of the artwork, it can be seen that the look on Judith’s face is full of pleasure and very sultry in its terms. 

And on the other hand, Holofernes’ head has turned darker with time and rests in Judith’s grip, lifeless and pale.


the face of Judith
Image Source: medium.com

The way her head is drawn varies from how her body is drawn. 

Judith’s hair has these soft black-brown hues, which tend to blend in with the golden background. 

The way Judith is depicted by Klimt, it becomes impossible to even guess that she has literally slain the head of Holofernes.

Her expressions are full of pleasure, whereas the story behind those eyes is just disturbing!

She is also seen sporting a heavy gold choker that is studded with diamonds and  gems, which also marks her status as wealthy.

By the look on her face and the way she is seen sporting her diamonds and fancy clothing, it portrays that she has zero regrets for what she has done. 

According to one art critic, Judith had “a sultry fire in her dark glances, cruelty in the lines of her mouth, and nostrils trembling with passion.” This alluring woman seems to harbor mysterious forces dormant within her. 


Focus on Judith's waist and the Head of Holofernes
Image Source: wikimedia.org

The dark and lifeless head of Holofernes is a portrayal of the defeat of the Assyrian army against the beautiful city of Bethulia.

His head is almost drawn, as half of it vanishes in the frame, which makes the viewers focus more on Judith.

In fact, despite the painting is about the victory and bravery of Judith beheading Holofernes, he has played an important role.

His character depicts that as a man, he has burned himself in the flames of lust, and his sexual desires led to his death.

If he wouldn’t have let Judith come near him then he would’ve survived, but history has witnessed the decapitation of Holofernes on the canvases of various artists.

Lighting and Color

The portrait of Judith and the head of holofernes and its various elements.
Image Source: wikimedia.org, medium.com

Judith beheading holofernes is created with the perfect shades of golden and white, which help the subject pop on canvas.

With the same approach, Gustav Klimt has used golden and brighter shades to switch the focus on Judith.

With the hints of green in the background and the usage of the shades of black and brown for the face of Holofernes to depict its lifelessness. 

Talking about the effects of lighting, as shimmering shades of golden, yellow with hints of white and green have been used in this Klimt’s artwork, which makes the overall painting an example of perfection.

With the painting being secured in a broad frame, the effect of lightfastness is almost nil.

Klimt has created Judith as a skinny and charming figure who sports jewels and accessories to enhance her overall appearance.

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Klimt’s prime focus can also be seen in enhancing and detailing Judith’s facial features, which are full of pleasure and satisfaction.

Also, talking about Judith’s body, Klimt has used hues of pink and light blue over a skin-colored primer, which gives Judith’s body a shiny look.

Except for the subjects of the painting, which are Judith and the head of Holofernes, Klimt has used golden colors and leaf motifs in the background.

The golden color in the background, which is inspired by nimbus, gives Judith a saintly level where she can be viewed as a worshipped figure. 

This painting also gives a kick-start to Klimt’s Golden Period, as he has used real golden leaves in it.

In the background, there are hints of exotic fig trees, and it is believed that Klimt got this idea from the illustrations at Sennacherib’s Assyrian palace. 


People looking at the portrait of Judith by Klimt.
Image Source: www.sothebys.com

When Gustav Klimt started using women as his muse for the erotic paintings, he started facing major backlash and also criticism from a lot of people.

He created many paintings that were explicit and were also criticized for being pornographic and erotic.

After his statement on art, in which he said that, “all art is erotic”. He then went on to explain how the development of psychological theories and behaviors inspired his paintings.

In the beginning of the era of Judith, Oscar Wilde’s famous play Salome was released which depicts the killing of John the Baptist. 

Many people from the art community used to call Salome Judith by Klimt. 

As soon as Klimt’s artwork of Judith and the Head of Holofernes was made live, the audience had slow reactions at first, but with time they adapted the idea of Judith beheading Holofernes as a femme fatale.

A lot of controversy surrounded the painting as Judith’s expression was full of pleasure after decapitating Holofernes. 

This didn’t go well with the audience as they were unable to believe that how can a woman who has just beheaded someone pull the face of satisfaction?

It’s possible that these “femme fatale” representations of women, which became popular in the late 19th century among writers and artists, reflect some anxiety about women’s growing independence. 

Many viewers and artists praised Klimt for giving Judith a femme fatale personality and also channelling her inner goddess in the painting. 

But some also believed that Judith saved her nation and her people so she should not have been portrayed as a sultry figure.

These were some of the reactions from the people of the art community and artists.

What I personally think is that Judith did what she thought was right for her and it ultimately saved her people from the Assyrian army.

So, for me Judith is indeed the HERO in this story and Klimt has beautifully represented it in his painting.

He has added the feminine elements as well as the clear message that you can’t mess with a lady who has her intentions lined up!

Suggested Read: Famous Italian Artists

Its Appeal Today

People clicking picture of Judith.
Image Source: www.biblicalarchaeology.org

Whether it be the artists or the art community, they seem to be heavily influenced by Klimt’s work.

Klimt, a well-known symbolist painter, was highly discussed in the art community as an expensive yet precise painter.

His creation Judith-I was portrayed by various artists of different art eras, but the depiction of bravery was a common factor in each one of them.

For instance, Judith was portrayed as a warrior in the Renaissance art movement, in the Baroque era she was portraying female rage.

In the late 19th century, in Klimt’s creation, she was titled as a femme fatale because of her sultry appearance.

So, all through the eras, including the 21st century, Judith has been a source of inspiration to the fellow females who are fighting for their rights.

Modern day society looks up to the character of Judith as a symbol of women’s empowerment and a noble political figure. 

The appeal of Klimt’s Judith in the 21st century has skyrocketed a bit as women from this century look up to the character of Judith.

She has severed the head of Holofernes to save her people, yet she has maintained her elegance throughout.

Suggested Read: Painting Of Lady Godiva


This was it about the masterpiece by Klimt, “Judith and the Head of Holofernes,” which is a mesmerizing art piece that has been gaining viewers’ attention since the day it was made.

I am pretty sure that you must have loved this artwork by Gustav Klimt! Do you wish to own one of the paintings by Gustav Klimt?

So, don’t you worry…

You can have one remade just for you by our professional artists, who have worked hard and effortlessly to pace up their skills to match the painting style of Gustav Klimt.

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this article about Judith and the Head of Holofernes. 

I have tried to compile the incidents and information that revolve around this famous artwork by Klimt.

I feel glad and appreciated when you guys leave your valuable feedback in the comments section, so please don’t forget about that!

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Ans. This painting by Gustav Klimt, which goes by the name ‘Judith and the Head of Holofernes, is now housed in a museum called Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria. 

Ans. Judith by Klimt is an oil painting by Gustav Klimt. He painted this masterpiece in 1901, during the period of Art Nouveau.

Ans. There are two figures which Klimt has depicted in his painting: one is Judith herself, and the other is the decapitated head of the Assyrian army general Holofernes.

Ans. Unfortunately, since the original piece is safely kept in a museum, you cannot buy the original painting . But, you can get your replica of Judith and the Head of Holofernes by Klimt, created by professional artists, and that too by sitting in the comfort of your home.

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