The Exposure of Woman in Art: Judith and the Head of Holofernes

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Gustav Klimt, Judith and the Head of Holofernes, 1901
The Exposure of Women in Art
by EMMA SHAPIRO


Artists typically paint nudes of prostitutes in exposed portraits, portraying them as helpless and weak sexual creatures. Contrarily, Klimt's representation of Judith and the Head of Holofernes, presents Judith’s strength. Her upright body and ferocity yet softness in her face draws the attention away from her nipples. Her slightly cocked head shows a sense of pride, but her sensual expression shows humbleness. Klimt places Holofernes head in the bottom right corner, to remove narrative reference. Klimt also shows no trace of the bloodied sword from the murder. Klimt decided that Judith’s powerful presence mattered more to the compilation of the painting than the actual storyline. Nude subjects almost always include some sexual connotations. In this case, Judith’s bare torso alludes to her attempt to entice Holofernes before his decapitation. Judith finds strength in her body. 

Klimt chose Adele Bloch-Bauer as the subject of this painting, a woman whom he painted several times in his career. Gustav Klimt lived in Vienna, where he made acquaintance with the Bloch-Bauer family. The Bloch-Bauers were a wealthy and influential Jewish family in Vienna, up until the World War II when they had to flee. In the painting, Adele wears her signature choker necklace, which exemplifies her wealth. It also brutally separates her head from her half-revealed body, like a decapitation of her own. Klimt does not draw women as useless creatures but rather highlights the vigor of women like Adele and Judith. This painting differs from the others in the collection because the woman being revealed not only embraces her bare chest, but she also flaunts it. 

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