Judith and Holofernes

Gustav Klimt • Painting, 1901, 84×42 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Portrait, Nude, Mythological scene
Style of art: Art Nouveau
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1901
Size: 84×42 cm
Content 18+
Artwork in selections: 256 selections

Description of the artwork «Judith and Holofernes»

A biblical story of the young Israeli widow Judith who seduced and beheaded the Assyrian commander Holofernes was a popular subject among painters at all times. Judith has always been a symbol of wisdom, courage and virtue prevailing over the evils of the wicked. However, in 1901, Gustav Klimt offered its own interpretation of this famous story and his own vision of the main subject. The word "controversial" can be applied almost to all masterpieces of the artist, and "Judith and Holofernes" painting is no exception.

Klimt chose a famous "golden" Adele Bloch-Bauer as a model for this painting, and the recognizable traits of her face gave rise to a wave of rumors about an affair between the artist and his model. Characterized by frank sensuality, the Klimt painting was different if compared to the same scene depicted by GiorgioneBotticelli and Caravaggio. The ecstatic expression on the face of Judith, her tense fingers passionately clutching the severed head of Holofernes, and her shamelessly naked body shocked the residents of Vienna. In their understanding, this perky femme-fatal obviously enjoying the cold-blooded murder, could not be linked to the image of a virtuous widow who dared to sacrifice her virtue in order to save her city from the enemy army.

The ambiguity of the canvas and overt sexuality of its subject confused the public so much... that it was decided to assume that it depicted not Judith, but the other well-known biblical personality – a cunning Salome with the head of John the Baptist. So for a long time, despite the name of the work written on the frame, it was known as "Salome". By the way, to distinguish Judith from Salome, the Old masters used to depict the former in a company of her maid, who helped the widow to get into the camp of the Assyrians and to carry out the murder of Holofernes.

The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer can probably be called the quintessence of the whole "Golden period" in Gustav Klimt`s artwork. In particular, it concerns the abundance of precious material the artist used in this work (Klimt decorated his paintings with real gold). However, the canvas does not look pretentious or tacky. Amazingly, but the abundance of gold does not create the sense of wealth and luxury, it seems only as a natural frame for a beautiful woman instead, with Judith`s face and hands highlighted in the picture. Gustav Klimt painted the portrait of Adele at the peak of his career using techniques and methods that allow determining the authorship of any of his mature works accurately. Here we can trace references to Egyptian and Byzantine art, a variety of ornaments skillfully interwoven into the composition and the clothing of the subject, and a subtle aura of sensuality surrounding the "Golden Adele".