This is the lesser known Judith of the two produced by Gustav Klimt, aka Judith II. I have yet to show you the widely recognized Judith I because I have not arrived at that part of the story sequence. And the agenda says “it’s not about popularity.” So let’s talk about the incomparable Gustav Klimt.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian artist – son of a gold engraver from Bohemia. At age 14, he earned a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he received conservative, academic training for 7 years and numerous awards as an architectural painter. But around 1892 and closing on age 30, Klimt began a departure from traditional training that resulted in the formation of the Vienna Secession in 1897 – a group of Austrian artists who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists because they objected to the tradition of copying historic styles and hoped to create a new style that had no influence from history.
They were successful.
Klimt’s primary subject was the female body and his works are marked by transformation of traditional allegory and symbolism into new imagery which was more overtly sexual – thus more disturbing. His last commissioned work was three paintings for the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna – Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence – but their radical themes and material were criticized as “pornographic” to the point they were never displayed. Alas, we cannot judge them for their erotic content because they were destroyed in World War II (1).
What followed was called Klimt’s “Golden Phase” which evoked positive critical reaction and success. Many of his paintings from this period used gold leaf – learned form his father. The works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–1908). Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt’s distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, Byzantine, engravings of Albrecht Dürer, and Japanese Rimpa school. He was also interested in exploring Freudian issues of sexual repression, and castration theory in his works. Talk about losing your head …
This Judith is less femme and more fatale than her sister. She is in motion, with the head of Holofernes tucked neatly in her bag – not triumphant but almost crouching, her face drained of color and emotion. Most notable in this portrayal are Judith’s hands: grasping and gnarled like claws, giving her the image of a predator. Not exactly an image I would suggest hanging over your bed if you were anticipating (a) pleasant dreams and/or (b) a roll in the hay.
(1) Sabarsky, Serge, et al., Gustav Klimt: Drawings. Kingston, Rhode Island: Moyer Bell Limited, 1983.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * A footnote to this painting: Although it is titled Judith II, it sometimes appears under the title Salome. The discussion of Judith versus Salome is a post unto itself, and I will take that up before I start on the portraits. Yes, Virginia, there are portraits. Lots and lots of portraits. So do not worry about running out of material for this blog any time soon. In which case, I have lots of grisly Salome’s in reserve.