Antwerp 1509 - Antwerp 1575
oil on panel
115 x 80 cm
Inventory number 5076
The Biblical figure of Judith holds the head of Holofernes firmly in her left hand; in the
right, the sword with which she has just carried out the beheading. Judit was Jewish heroine who
slipped into the camp of the Assyrian enemy to seek out Holofernes, the general of Nebuchadnezzar.
After seducing him and feeding him drunk, she cut off his head. As pandemonium breaks outside the
general's tent, Judit is calmness personified.
Like his brother Cornelis, Jan Massijs worked for many years in the workshop of his renowned father Quinten Metsijs. His early work is quite reminiscent of his father's style, but he eventually went his own way, literally and artistically. In 1544, he was banished from Antwerp because of his connections with reformed heretics. During his exile he spent time in France and in Northern Italy, where he came into contact with Renaissance art. In his mature period, he succeeded in blending these foreign influences with the Flemish naturalist style.
This painting is a rendering of a popular story from the Old Testament, in which a Jewish heroine sacrifices her own life for the good of her community. She was seen as a symbol of man who takes destiny into his own hands. Her gory heroic deed would inspire numerous Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Caravaggio and even Rubens.