I placed this piece after the decampment because Judith would not stand outside the Holofernes’ tent and wave his severed head around in front of his army … would she?
So let us assume that Judith and the maid are on the way home with the army just out of sight. But Judith is unable to contain her excitement any longer so she takes the decapitated head out of the bag to enjoy it for the remaining walk to Bethulia.
Yes, that would explain why the maid looks apprehensive and has her hand behind Judith’s back – trying to hurry her along beyond the scope of Holofernes army. She probably has lots of experience with Judith’s impulsiveness. Or maybe the timidity of the maid has to do with Judith’s choice of clothing – or lack of clothing. Once again, Judith’s decision to strip naked from her neck to her pubic bone seems impulsive – akin to Bethulian Girl’s Gone Wild.
That is, until you realize that Jan Massys (or Matsys or Metsys or Matsijs) preferred to portray his female subjects in the nude.
He is best known as a painter of the female nude. As was often the case in the 16th century, he frequently used Old Testament, allegorical and mythological subjects as a pretext for the depiction of the nude. The sensuality of his figures is reminiscent of the works of the Fontainebleau school, a feature already evident in his early signed Judith (1543)(1).
Oh HO! Gratuitous nudity in Biblical art!! Which artist came up with that idea? My guess: the artist who sold a lot of paintings in his day.
(1) Sphinx Fine Art: Jan Massys