Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Judith and "The Head"

If you are interested…

I posted this photo of Gustav Klimt’s “Judith 1” before and wondered whose head she was holding. Geek that I am, I did I bit of research. It turns out it is in reference to Judith from the old testament, a widow who saved her city called Bethulia from invasion by the Assyrians. The powerful Assyrian general Holofernes summons Judith to dinner at his tent with the intention of seducing her. Instead, she takes advantage of the situation, gets him drunk then beheads him. She walks out of the camp and back to town carrying his head, no doubt aware of the effect it would have on the morale of the Assyrian army. What a chick.

The biblical portrayal of Judith was that of a virtuous heroine. Klimt’s Judith however is something else almost entirely—head tilted back, expression of triumph on her face, eyes half-closed, grasping Holofernes’ head like it was a prize lettuce—the Viennese femme fatale that no one was quite sure how to handle. By relegating Holofernes’ head to the edge of the frame, one is completely in the gaze and control of Judith. It is the woman, not the man, who commands your attention. Her gold choker is meant to visually suggest decapitation, an echo of the beheading she had just performed.

Another interesting point is that Klimt took the background of this painting with its stylized trees and fields from a famous Assyrian palace relief, thus giving Judith 1 “a precise, biblical setting”. In this case, Judith is clearly the Judith, a Jew that Klimt depicts in an unmistakable position of power and triumph, in a time when Austrian politics was rife with Anti-Semitism. Go Gustav.

Just like Picasso’s recurring image of the praying mantis (female devouring the male after coitus), Klimt’s portrayal of Judith may, according to some art scholars, be his way of confronting his own fear of losing control, of succumbing to the kind of dark sexuality that she represents.

No doubt he had invited his share of dangerous ladies to tea.


Blogger vcalanog said...

I for one am turned on by women who can kick my ass, dominate me and potentially behead me.

August 11, 2004 3:50 AM  
Blogger nini said...


August 11, 2004 11:42 AM  
Blogger color_blind said...

i AM Judith then :) thanks for doing that bit of work for me. i've loved that painting for long but never bothered to read about it.

September 03, 2004 10:34 AM  

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