The subject of this painting has been identified as Artemisa in the catalogues of the Museum’s collection since 1850. According to Valerius Maximus in his Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem (4, Ext. 1), Artemisa was overwhelmed by grief at the death of her husband Mausolus, governor of Caria, and decided to drink his ashes in order to become his living tomb.
Historical arguments for this interpretation
From a historical viewpoint the argument in favour of Artemisa is supported by the fact that both Louise de Coligny, mother of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, and Amalia van Solms, his wife, identified with this classical heroine. The two women owned paintings of this subject by Rubens and Honthorst respectively, which Rembrandt would have known.
- Summary (pdf file; 90KB) of 'New Iconographic Interpretation: Judith at the banquet of Holofernes', by Teresa Posada Kubissa, in the catalogue raisonné of 17th century Dutch Painting in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2009