Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Klimt's Judith: Turning the Tables

This is Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Gustav Klimt. Art critics have accused Klimt of being merely decorative, but what I like about this image is that it subverts the patriarchal, voyeuristic gaze we often see in pre-Modern representational art, in presenting a Biblical woman, as direct and uncompromisingly bold as Manet's Olympia, challenging and seducing us coterminously. There is, in her gaze, a primordial power, and it's difficult to miss the fact that she's holding the head of Holofernes in both hands. Olympia is brash but unsophisticated; Judith is more multi-layered, and the one small breast revealed through her gossamer gown can come to seem like a radically sexualized equivalent of Mona Lisa's half-smile. You could also make a connection to Shakespeare's Dark Lady; though the position of the painter in relation to Judith is not clear. Judith refutes standard notions of female beauty; she is not voluptuous; yet the coolness of her expression exudes sensuality, knowledge, and power. In short, it would seem that in creating Judith, Klimt turned the tables on himself and his dominant and dominating masculinity; here, it is an empowered woman who rivets his gaze, and his objectification is tinged with awe rather than condescension or aggression. Among other things, an invitation to ekphrasis.

No comments:


free hit counting
Discount Backpacks