[In Our Time] Judith beheading Holofernes

Judith beheading Holofernes

14/02/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=63625524
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p070tzfq.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists from the Middle Ages onwards have been inspired by the Bible story of the widow who killed an Assyrian general who was besieging her village, and so saved her people from his army and from his master Nebuchadnezzar. A symbol of a woman’s power and the defiance of political tyranny, the image of Judith has been sculpted by Donatello, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, in the case of Caravaggio, Liss and Artemisia Gentileschi, been shown with vivid, disturbing detail. What do these interpretations reveal of the attitudes to power and women in their time, and of the artists’ own experiences?

The image of Judith, above is from a tapestry in the Duomo, Milan, by Giovanni or Nicola Carcher, 1555


Susan Foister
Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery

John Gash
Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen


Ela Nutu Hall
Research Associate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, at the University of Sheffield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-03-24


  • What a fascinating episode; made exasperating though because I was listening to it while driving and couldn’t correlate the paintings being described with actual images. I think I will keep this episode undeleted, listen again at a time of leisure and when I can Google all the paintings being described.
  • The panel of academics debunks that breathless tumblr post / screenshot about Artemisia Gentilschi that goes around.
  • I had mentioned some time earlier that I need to sit down and make a table of how different geological configurations line up with the names of the ages and the characteristic life then. I think I need to do a similar exercise to understand artists and their work and when they were around.
  • The story of Florence having a statue of Judith beheading Holofernes as a warning to traitors is hilarious.
  • Judith as propaganda commissioned by female rulers is also an interesting insight.
  • The detail about Judith carrying her own kosher food to Holofernes’ tent; and delighting him but refusing to eat his food sounds suspiciously like Brahmin or Jain prissiness about only eating pure veg food; and its corollary, the 14 day Europe tour with Indian cook.



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