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Gustav Klimt Judith II, c.1909 (detail)


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While Klimt's first "Judith" was erroneously called "Salome" from the start (despite that the correct title was clearly on the original frame), "Judith II" only acquired this alternative title after Klimt's death. Salome may actually be more accurate for the latter image, which metamorphosed from charcoal studies of a dancing woman- an activity that is part of Salome's legend, not Judith's. Klimt was probably also influenced by Richard Strauss's 1907 opera (based on the 1893 play by Oscar Wilde). The difference between the two legends is not without significance, for while Judith was a heroine who used her feminine wiles to seduce the enemy and then slew him, Salome (particularly as portrayed by Strauss and Wilde) was a spoiled nymphet who charmed King Herod into giving her the head of John the Baptist. "Judith II," with her claws bared and entwined in John's hair, is a far more imposing image than "Judith I." Stylistically, "Judith II" falls on the warning side of Klimt's gold and mosaic period. The ornamentation is more painterly, the gilding less predominant. The attenuated vertical composition (breaking from the sqarish format that Klimt generally favored), results in a dense clustering of large and small shapes. Klimt's usual packed, piling-up of schematic elements is one of the things that give "Judith II" an oppressive intensity. The extremity of the vertical approach brings to mind Oriental scrolls, pillar prints or Oban. His paintings of this time did herald a more conscious awareness of such art forms.

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