Portrait of Courage: Gentileschi, Wiley, and the Story of Judith Through April 16, 2023

Included with general admission. Get tickets here.

“Two provocative paintings ... each is a masterpiece.” —Houston CityBook

Two paintings created 400 years apart raise contemporary issues through a historical lens. Both depict the Old Testament story of Judith slaying Holofernes.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s 17th-century Judith and Holofernes and Kehinde Wiley’s 21st-century Judith and Holofernes continue their national tour at the MFAH. Portrait of Courage: Gentileschi, Wiley, and the Story of Judith places the two paintings in dialogue with one another, revealing shared narratives and ideas across time and culture.

The subject of the paintings comes from the Old Testament Book of Judith. A Jewish town is under attack by the Assyrian army, led by the general Holofernes. Judith, a courageous local widow, dresses in finery and visits the enemy camp under the pretense of helping Holofernes defeat the Israelites. Enchanted by Judith’s beauty, Holofernes invites her to dinner, and after he falls asleep she severs his head with his own sword. The Assyrians flee, and the Jewish people are liberated.  

The story of Judith and Holofernes—the vulnerable rising to slay a hostile invader, the oppressed overthrowing the oppressor—holds enduring appeal. Over the centuries, Judith has been variously interpreted as a virtuous young woman, a seductive femme fatale, and a brave heroine by artists from Botticelli, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio to Klimt. In depicting a woman’s act of courageous defiance, the paintings by Italian artist Gentileschi and American artist Wiley both address timeless issues of gender, race, violence, oppression, and social power.

Portrait of Courage: Gentileschi, Wiley, and the Story of Judith / January 25–April 16, 2023

The exhibition is organized by the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the museum box.

Generous support is provided by:
Bettie Cartwright
The Margaret Cooke Skidmore Exhibition Endowment


Caroline Wiess Law Building
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Houston, TX 77005
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