[Artemisia] Gentileschi, still a teenager when the trial ended, was shamed in a culture where honour was everything. Yet it also provided a kind of monstrous publicity. By the 1620s, she was a successful artist working as far from Rome as she could get. And she was taking revenge with the only weapon she had: a paintbrush. She could not write her story because, as she revealed during the trial, she was more or less illiterate. She could paint it, though, and change its ending – as her paintings of Judith and Holofernes show.
Gentileschi, however, brings out an element of the biblical story no male artist had ever dwelt on. In most paintings, including Caravaggio’s hallucinatory rendering, Judith has a servant who waits to collect the severed head. But Gentileschi makes the servant a strong young woman who actively participates in the killing. This does two things. It adds a savage realism that even Caravaggio never thought of – it would take two women to kill this brute. But it also gives the scene a revolutionary implication. “What,” wonders Gentileschi, “if women got together? Could we fight back against a world ruled by men?”