This painting amuses me.
I know it is only art – it does not have to be realistic or accurate or even remotely possible in real life. But my immediate reaction to this rendering of Judith is “Young lady, go change your clothes right this minute. You are going to ruin that dress with what you have planned!”
This is the work of Eglon van der Neer, so I suppose his excuse for dressing Judith in white is that he is a man. But white? Seriously? Everyone knows that red would be a much better choice for a beheading – a very dark red. And it is not just the dress. It is also her posture – for which I do fault the artist. The position of her hand on her chest is clearly a gesture that says “Who?? Me???” – as if butter would not melt in her mouth and she could easily get away with murder.
However, in defense of van der Neer, it is probable that this is less about Judith and more about the portrait of a young woman of the German court who insisted on wearing white silk in her role as Biblical Butcher. Van der Neer was court painter to the Elector Palatine (aka Prince of a German palatine), in which he received a salary to paint portraits members of the royal family. As noted by the National Gallery of London where the painting resides, “The prominence of the figure of Judith, the portrait character of her face, her dress, and the subsidiary position of the maid and the head of Holofernes make it likely that this is a portrait of a young woman in the guise of the Jewish heroine.” (1)
In truth, I had not initially placed this work with the other depictions of the head being separated from the body because I thought it failed my criteria: including the body as part of the scene. However, a closer observation revealed Holofernes body is in the corner. which leads me to conjecture this is really a depiction of Judith in a supervisory role. As opposed to digging in up to her elbows as in Gentileschi’s or Caravaggio’s rendition, this Judith told the maid to pack up the tools, cut through the neck, remove the head and put it in the bag – all while she watched from the comfort of a chair, far away from the blood spatter.