"All art is erotic" — Gustav Klimt
Fusing a range of influences such as Byzantine mosaics, Greek Antiquity, Egyptian motifs, and avant-garde ornament into his paintings, Klimt's
Vienna's aristocracy-in the midst of intellectual and cultural blossom-was intrigued by Klimt's juxtaposing merge of Eros (The ancient Greek god of love that often referred to libido and sexuality) and death; and he was commissioned by the Fin de siècle of Vienna to paint many of the society wives.
However, others, most notably the Jewish bourgeoisie, were shocked that Klimt's portrayal of a biblical figure they held with utmost reverence was rendered in such an explicitly sexual way.
For with her lidded eyes, languid pose, and teasing half-smile, the ecstatic
Indeed, many began to assume in their disbelief that Klimt had mistaken Judith for Salome, the popular femme fatale who inspired and fascinated the contemporaries of the day; and as a result, many art catalogues and journals found
Religious taboos aside, from the background alone it is clear that Klimt does not present her as a biblical heroine. For one thing, Judith is dripping with gold-she sports an armband, perhaps of Egyptian origin, and a gilded collar. Her hair, though pinned up, is a lavishly full bouffant, and she wears only an ornate oversized vest, through which a lone breast is seen slipping out of. Adding another layer of eroticism to the painting is the color of her skin-it glows shamelessly, infusing the canvas with radiance. Indeed, the sheen of her body cannot even be compared to the items covered in actual gold that dot the picture; her jewelry and the gilded trees in the background all pale in comparison to her glow.
1. Klimt, perhaps toying with upper Vienna's resistance to fully accept his themes of sexuality, seems to call into question the notion of Judith herself and what she represents. She seems caught in contradictory perceptions; for while the static, idealized nudes were accepted without chastisement from society, an animate woman capable of emotion spurred criticism and scandal. Did Klimt show signs of his views towards her in the canvas?
2. Comparisons to the Pre-Raphaelite Femme Fatales are inevitable; but which could best be compared to
3. Klimt adds further ambiguity by placing a woman who, according to her dress, is of high status against a setting that is natural but also gilded. Are they representing society? Or, regardless of color, could the trees be a metaphor for fertility (vegetation)? Time?
4. Though the words "Judith and Holfernes" are etched into the frame above, there is no sign of Holfernes. (Or is there?..) What does the depiction of Judith alone say?
5. Could it be that Klimt had Christ's Mother Mary in mind when he painted
Last modified 5 December 2006