Up Close With Klimt's Painting of 'Judith'

By Belvedere

Judith (1901) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

One of today's most well-known examples of Klimt embracing female eroticism is the 1901 piece Judith I. According to the Bible, the beautiful Judith beheaded drunk Assyrian general Holofernes one night to save her Jewish people from their downfall.

Klimt's depiction evidently relates to Friedrich Hebbel's interpretation in his 1840 drama "Judith." In this drama, the Jewish heroine actually has sexual relations with the general, combining eroticism and death into an inseparable entity.

With a slightly reclined head and lascivious open mouth, Klimt's Judith gives the viewer the seductive look she also used to charm Holofernes with her half-closed eyes.

Klimt's Judith is an outstanding example of the type of femme fatale newly characterized in both art and literature around 1900 who emanates eroticism and danger in equal measure.

In the years after 1900, the role of men and women in society and the determination of sexual roles by others and the self were increasingly becoming the focus of science and society and were fundamentally reconsidered.

It is therefore no coincidence that, especially during these years in Vienna, representatives of the very recent scientific discipline of psychoanalysis—particularly Sigmund Freud—arrived at completely new findings.

Judith's breasts are revealed instead of covered by the thin silk fabric. Klimt's style of painting, which subtly immerses the figure in a foggy sfumato, highlights the mysteriousness emanating from this person.

Klimt composed the body and face with countless juxtaposed brushstrokes in pink and light blue over a flesh-colored primer. Her skin seems to flicker nervously as a result.

Judith wears a gold choker studded with gemstones and a similarly valuable belt. The stones artificially protrude from the painting due to their thick paint.

Behind Judith's head are stylized, gold-colored landscape elements. The exotic motifs of fig trees and vines have their origins in a relief at Sennacherib's Assyrian palace, which Klimt may have known from illustrations.

The gold of the background acts as a nimbus, raising Judith to the level of a saint. Judith I marks the beginning of Klimt's so-called "Golden Period" when the master artist worked with real gold leaf.

Judith (1901) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The exotic-looking frame of the painting with the inscription "Judith and Holofernes" was made by Gustav Klimt's brother Georg based on Gustav's designs.

Click here to experience this artwork as part of the Klimt vs. Klimt virtual gallery in 3D and AR.

Credits: Story

Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Klimt vs. Klimt
From penniless unknown to the famous creator of The Kiss, get to know the contradictory life of Gustav Klimt
View theme
Google apps