The figure’s broad fur collar, symbol of her royal status, and the costly chalice that is being offered to her have led various art historians to propose that this scene depicts Sophonisba (Livy, Ab urbe condita XXX, 12, 14, 15), daughter of Hasdrubal, wife of the Numidian King Syphax and subsequently of Prince Masinissa. Sophonisba preferred to take her own life by drinking poison than to be captured by the Romans.
Bearing in mind the iconographic sources proposed by Tümpel, it has been observed that the absence of mourners and soldiers and above all of the slave sent by Masinissa with the cup of poison make it unlikely that the painting depicts Sophonisba. In addition, the presence of the old woman in the background cannot be explained with regard to that story.
- 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