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Gustav Klimt: The Making of a Masterpiece: Judith I
In the Old Testament, the Jewish widow, Judith, saved the city of Bethulia from siege by the Assyrians by adoring herself and venturing into the enemy camp to gain access to the Assyrian general, Holofernes. He invited her to a banquet intending to seduce her, and while they were alone at the feast, Judith took advantage of Holofernes' drunkenness to decapitate him, and returned to Bethulia with his head in a sack. The Jews saw Judith as a virtuous heroine, but Klimt portrays her as a Viennese femme fatale. Her expression of cruel triumph has often led to her being confused with Salome, who ordered the beheading of John the Baptist to satisfy the vengeful spirit of her mother.
Judith II:

Klimt returned to the Judith theme in 1909, with his life-size portrait of Judith II. The gaunt figure is even more chilling and predatory than Judith I, clutching the hair of the decapitated Holofernes in her fleshless fingers.

Death and Sexuality:

Judith's rapturous expression, and the jeweled choker which visually suggests decapitation, links her sexual ecstasy with the specter of death.

Assyrian landscape: The stunning gold background, with its schematized fig trees and grapevines, is taken from a famous Assyrian relief. Klimt's quote from this Assyrian palace relief of Sennacherib at Nineveh gives his Judith a precise biblical setting.

Many of Klimt's contemporaries refused to believe that his triumphant femme fatale represented the pious heroine Judith. During his lifetime it was listed as a "Salome" - the deadly temptress favored by the other fin-de-siecle figures, like Aubrey Beardsley.

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