Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Lucas Cranach the Elder1520/1540

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

The Old Testament heroine Judith succeeded through her courage and cunning in entering the tent of general Holofernes at his camp outside the city of Bethulia and in seducing and then beheading him, thus ending the military threat against her people. At the time Cranach painted this portrait of the heroine, he had been working as court painter to the elector of Saxony for almost twenty years. The tax records of the city of Wittenberg list him as its wealthiest citizen. All the known versions of the half-length portraits of Judith from Cranach’s largeworkshop were painted around the year 1530. This striking concentration was apparently related to the founding of the Schmalkaldic League: Judith became a symbol of armed Protestant resistance to Charles V and his Catholic armies. Given this connection with contemporary history, Judith’s character as a mankilling femme cruelle, emphasised in other paintings, becomes secondary. Nevertheless, Cranach’s Judith also shows a trace of eroticism. Her long, flowinghair, costly and fashionable clothing, low décolleté with gold jewellery and the delicate gestures of her hands create tension with the openly displayed head of the enemy general and the erect sword she demonstratively holds in her right hand. But this is only one side of the story, because on the other hand Cranach’s choice of colours results in a subtle unity: the deadly character of this Old Testament murder is depicted in a variety of carefully nuanced shades of red. The style of Cranach’s Wittenberg paintings – regardless of the subject – is unmistakable: his compositions are always two-dimensional without reference to the surrounding space and usually also have a decorative effect. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Judith with the Head of Holofernes
  • Creator: Lucas Cranach the Elder
  • Date Created: 1520/1540
  • Style: German Renaissance
  • Provenance: in the Imperial Collections since 1612/1618
  • Physical Dimensions: w560 x h870 cm
  • Inventory Number: GG 858
  • Artist Biography: Lucas Cranach the Elder took his surname from his birthplace, Kronach, where he probably trained with his painter father. Around 1501 he went to Vienna, where he focused on drawing ruins and windswept trees. In 1505 he became court painter to Frederick the Wise of Saxony in Wittenberg, a position he maintained for life under various electors. At court, Cranach specialized in portraits. Bold design, intense color, and gracefully outlined costumes typify his court likenesses. He may have invented the full-length portrait as an independent work of art. Like Albrecht Dürer before him, Cranach created fine, valued engravings and woodcuts as well as paintings. His large workshop included his sons Hans and Lucas. One of Wittenberg's leading citizens, Cranach owned a bookshop and a pharmacy and served on the city council in addition to his work at court. As Martin Luther's close friend, he supervised the printing of Luther's propaganda pamphlets; designed woodcuts for Luther's translation of the New Testament; painted altarpieces for Lutheran churches; and painted, engraved, and made woodcut portraits of Protestant Reformers and princes. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

Additional Items


Translate with Google