There has been a news story doing the rounds about a pasta label that uses a depiction of Jewish heroine Judith:


The pasta sauce has caused quite a stir. The objection is that “the image, as Middle Earth Organics would know if anyone had done ANY research whatsoever, is Judith Beheading Holofernes, a 1598 painting by Caravaggio. Judith … is not making an al dente delight. Judith is cutting off some dude’s head.”

Here is the full painting from which the pasta label was taken:


The story then suggests that the pasta makers should have consulted “an art history major”. Well, perhaps.

But the use of Judith the beheader is actually quite appropriate for marketing pasta sauce.

In the Book of Judith, the heroine Judith takes her own Jewish food to eat while she stays with Holofernes: wine, oil, barley groats, figcakes, white bread, and (in some versions) cheese.

According to a tradition that began in the Middle Ages, Judith attempted to get Holofernes drunk by giving him wine, and tried to get him drowsy (or thirsty) by offering him her cheese. By incapacitating Holofernes with her own delicious food and drink, she was then able to cut off his head. The tradition provides an explanation why cheese is eaten at the festival of Hanukkah.

And of course, what’s a pasta without a bit of grated cheese on top? Some tasty pecorino romano would go nicely.

So the pasta label in fact seems rather apt… if not to an art historian, at least to a biblical reception historian.

Judith, by Katy Wiedemann
Judith, by Katy Wiedemann