Theodore von Holst favored melodramatic scenes from famous European literature, such as Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Mary Shelley – being the first to illustrate her novel Frankenstein in 1831. However, he avoided trends of his own times such that “his choice of subjects were out of step with the age and public taste. His penchant for the demonic, supernatural, and erotic led to a degree of neglect that was otherwise undeserved.” (1)
Translation: the dude liked to paint illustrations from hoity-toity melodramatic books that were too scary and sexualized for the tastes of his contemporaries, so his work was largely ignored.
But sex and violence sells today. For current patrons with a taste for the macabre, the Tate Britain featured Holst’s work in the Gothick Nightmares exhibition in 2006 (2).
Holst has depicted Judith here as if she is taking a moment away from a party and politely asked Holofernes to kneel so she may whack off his head. How chivalrous of him to comply and how charming of her maid to assist with pleasure. Although I am curious about the onlookers and their distance from the event: horrified by a surprising execution … or simply happy to see him go?