Klimt appropriately depicts Athena, who was born fully formed and fully armed from the head of Zeus, dressed for battle. Traditionally, Pallas Athena bears a shield decorated with the head of Medusa, yet Klimt gives his own version of this iconography by depicting a grotesque face with its tongue sticking out. Athena's face, too, appears warlike — her eyes are wide open, staring straight out of the picture, her lips are set in a firm thin line and she raises her chin slightly giving her strong jaw even more power. Athena is a formidable woman in this representation. In addition, her stiff vertical posture, accentuated by the straight spear which extends beyond the limits of the painting, heightens the effect of her strength.

In Judith, Klimt employs a similar pose in that Judith raises her chin so that the viewer looks up into her face. Yet, this painting seems to be a portrait of human sexual desire rather than an imagining of a deity. Judith's parted lips and half-closed eyes give the portrait an erotic feel, and her open robes serve the same purpose. Klimt also gives this woman life and vitality in her flushed cheeks and natural tilt of the head, as opposed to the relative dullness of Athena's face, accentuated by the shadow cast across her eyes, and her stiff posture.


1. The figure of the woman in the bottom left corner of the painting seems out of place. Who or what is she? What is going on in the background?

2. Are these paintings symbolic in any way?

3. In both portraits, skin is the lightest element. Compare his use of darkness.

4. Compare Judith with Hygieia.

5. although highly stylized, there are trees and fruit in the background of Judith. What effect do they have on the painting? Do they contribute to a theme of any kind?

Aesthetes & Decadents Paintings of the Decadence Gustav Klimt Leading questions

Last modified 5 December 2006