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Judith with the head of Holofernes

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©V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Judith, a Jewish widow, was courageous enough to ask permission to leave her home town, Bethulia, to visit the camp of its attacker, the Assyrian commander Holofernes. Attractive, dressed in her finery, her company proved acceptable and Judith dined with him. Holofernes drank too much. Falling asleep, he gave Judith the opportunity she had hoped for, to cut off his head, the real aim of her visit. The gory head was smuggled back to Bethulia in the sack held by the maid behind her. Other examples of this tapestry show it displayed above the town walls, like the heads of executed traitors above London

Judith, richly clothed, as befitted a noble woman, is shown at the moment of victory, sword held high. The dress of the maid, half hidden behind her mistress, is simpler, indicative of the designer's attention to detail as well as the social differentiation.

The flowers include honeysuckle, foxglove, rose, borage, strawberry, marigold, cornflower and foxglove, differing from the selection seen on the arms of Sacheverell. They were probably copied from one of the many plant books imported from Antwerp, easily available by the later part of the century at the bookstalls in St Paul 's churchyard.

The border of this tapestry is unusual - the striped edging on its inner side was once enough to suggest that it too was woven at Barcheston, but the outer section, with its twisted -S- shapes, is not paralleled amongst other examples from there. One may wonder, therefore, whether the tapestry was made elsewhere - possibly even in London amongst the émigré workshops established there from 1558 onwards.

Almost certainly this picture was derived from a print source, probably Hieronymus Wierix (1553-1619).



Museum number T.273-1927

19 x 18 ¾ inches 48.0 x 48.0cms 20 per inch; 8 per cm.

Wool and silk

Source: Old Testament Apocrypha


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