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Egypt

Gustav Klimt1890/1891

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna openend to the public in 1891. Gustav Klimt, his younger brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch executed forty paintings to decorate the spaces between the columns and above the arcades along the walls of the KHM’s main staircase. Personifications symbolize different stylistic periods, regions or centers of art. All paintings were executed in oil on canvas in the Artists’ studio; in 1891, six months before the formal opening of the museum, they were glued to the walls of the main staircase. “Egypt” shows a female nude, standing before an ornamental background, which combines architectural motives, hieroglyphics, images of the gods Horus and Thoth, and the goddess Nekhbet’s vulture. Klimt deviated conspicuously from Egyptian convention, which with but few exceptions portrays only children or prisoners in the nude. In her right hand the female figure holds an ankh, which was also used in Egyptian hieroglyphics as the symbol of life. Between the columns on the right, i.e. in the “intercolumnar” area, Klimt depicts an uschabti box, statues of Isis and Ptah, who was the principal divinity of Memphis, a scribe, a wooden sarcophagus cover, and in the background, the capital of a Hathor column. None of these were based on objects from the imperial collections. Klimt integrates the animated female figure into the background and also cites her facial features in the sarcophagus cover, thus unifying different levels of reality with compositional virtuosity. This approach is followed throughout the spandrel and intercolumnar paintings in the staircase. For further Information on the building see: Cäcilia Bischoff, The Kunsthistorisches Museum. History, Architecture, Decoration, Vienna 2010

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