Judith Beheading Holofernes, Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens
Judith Beheading Holofernes
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Peter Paul Rubens: Judith enthauptet Holofernes, ca. 1600, Öl. Standort unbekannt

Peter Paul Rubens

Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1609 – 1610

206 x 160 mm
Physical Description
Brown ink, brown washes, on ribbed laid paper
Inventory Number
Object Number
15690 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

The Book of Judith in the Old Testament tells of the siege of the Jewish fortress of Bethulia by the Assyrian commander Holofernes. When the besieged city was on the point of surrender, the beautiful and pious widow Judith visited the camp of Holofernes in the company of her maid. She succeeded in gaining his affection and trust, and when he had fallen into a drunken sleep at night, she took his sword and beheaded him. Bereft of its leader, the Assyrian army abandoned the siege. As a result of her triumph over evil, the heroic Judith is regarded by the Christian Church as a forerunner of the Virgin Mary.

Rubens portrayed 'Judith and Holofernes' a number of times; the drawing in the Städel Museum is closely linked to his earliest painting on the subject. It was created in 1609-10 in Antwerp, after the artist's return from an extended stay in Italy and Spain lasting several years, during which he established a friendship with Adam Elsheimer in Rome. Rubens' original painting has been lost, but the composition has survived as a copperplate engraving.

In the Städel Museum's drawing, Rubens laid out the composition with rapid, almost casual pen strokes and used generous brushwork and different shades of wash to give it depth and light. He then used his pen again to add a number of accents, such as the still life hinted at in the left foreground, which was probably meant to represent a helmet and sword, and the changed position of the sword. Rubens was interested in the way the two main figures are entangled: the figure of Holofernes, who has been dragged forward head first on his back, and Judith, who is clambering energetically over an upturned bench and swinging the sword above her head. On the right-hand edge of the picture we can make out Judith's maid, who is gazing back in fear. The masterly pen-and-ink and brush drawing served to test the overall effect of the composition, which was dominated by light and movement. Rubens reduced its wild momentum in the painting.


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Work Data

Basic Information

Judith Beheading Holofernes
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Brown ink, brown washes, on ribbed laid paper
Geographic Reference
Production Reason
Captions Added Later
Verso bezeichnet auf dem Montierungsbogen unten mittig (mit der Feder in Braun): van Dyck; unten rechts: RPR
Verso auf dem Montierungsbogen Trockenstempel der Sammlung Sir Thomas Lawrence, London (Lugt 2445); Stempel der Sammlung Robert Low, London (Lugt 2222); Stempel des Städelschen Kunstinstituts, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2356)
  • [Fragment]
Work Catalogues
  • Burchard/D'Hulst 1963.80.47
  • Held 1959.I.99.15
  • Nicht bei Glück/Haberditzl

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
Public Domain

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif
Persons Shown
Illustrated Passage
  • Bibel, Altes Testament, Judit 13,4-8


  • 71U4273 Holofernes beheaded by Judith with his own sword; the maidservant may be keeping watch

Research and Discussion


Historic Attribution

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