Judith & Salome in Art

Herodias’s Revenge’s
Juan de Flandes c. 1496

During the latter renaissance (1500-1700) Judith and Salome (as well as a multitude of Lucretias) gave noble women of the period something to masquerade as. The quasi-religious portrait was an attempt to justify secular portraiture, but very quickly became a sort of charades for posterity, some of it quite cheeky. It is fascinating that women of the time would have wanted to be characterized by their descendants as the vixen clutching a severed head. Salome was a little less popular in this regard, as her motives were a bit less noble than that of Judith. Judith, however, exemplified the ultimate sacrifice, that of her virtue (both hymenally & that of her soul) for the sake of her tribe’s survival.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the image of woman was sufficiently tarnished to be portrayed with a frequency that boggles. By the early 20th, Salome was a ready-made vamp that art, literature, and film gobbled up with gusto. Judith, her noble sacrifice eliciting barely a yawn from the over-indulged audiences, fading to barely a blip on the comparative religious studies.