Judith and Holofernes, oil on board, c. 1575


A rare example of popular art from Shakespeare’s time. In the Anglo-Netherlandish style of the late C16.


Virtuous and holy; chosen from above,
By inspiration of celestial grace,

Henry VI Part 1 (Act 5 Scene 6)

 

Judith beheads Holofernes to end the war between his army and her people.

Most people during Shakespeare’s lifetime knew Bible stories like this one by heart. The Old Testament contains many dramatic tales that Tudor audiences loved.

Shakespeare named his second daughter Judith knowing the associations with a strong and devout Jewish woman from the Old Testament.

 

This painting was purchased with help from the Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

 

This is a rare example of popular art from Shakespeare’s time. In the Anglo-Netherlandish style of the late C16. The painting is a rare example of the sort of picture that might have been seen in England during the period of Shakespeare’s lifetime. The disposition of the figures, and the drapery, with Judith’s maid and the bag ready to receive Holofernes’ severed head accord well with the description of the scene in the Old Testament book of Judith xiii.1-10. This subject matter would have adorned prosperous Elizabethan houses and was part of the landscape of everyone’s imagination, although from the limited evidence available it appears that in Britain the subject was more often represented in large-scale surface decoration than in smaller pictures.

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