The iconography of this painting is puzzling and is the issue that has aroused most debate in relation to this canvas.

The stories of Artemisa and Sophonisba (both of whom have been proposed as the subject of the painting) were popular in literature and painting in the 17th century and were frequently confused due to their similarity. Furthermore, it has recently been suggested that the painting depicts Judith before Holofernes. All three stories were used to convey the idea of patriotism and/or marital fidelity.

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