In my presentation paper am going to describe how the artistic movements of early 1900s and the symbolism in Gustav Klimt’s painting”Pallas Athena” of 1898. I will view the Artist’s artistic representation in Greek mythology. Introduction. Gustav Klimt was an artist who was highly interested in the woman body rather than the essence of woman.
From his works it is clear that he was so much interested in the feminist in the female body. To him the female body was something to look at and was not self sufficient. It is seen from his earlier drawings that the aspect of shame was absent.
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It is also evident that only his paintings were designed for the general public. An example is the painting of the kiss made in 1907/08. In this painting Klimt does a couple that is bound up. We can see various shades of gold and symbols. The couple is sharing a kiss against a bronze background. The male figure is depicted dominating the female and he is holding her face to bestow a kiss. The couple is situated at the edge of an escarpment that is highly flowered. The man is dressed in neutral colored rectangles and has a crown made of vines.
The woman has a brightly colored tangent circles and her hair is full of flowers. I can interpret here that the painting shows the beauty, unity and finally selflessness that a couple can have when they first kiss. It is all about the combining forces and the unity of two. On the other hand we are going to have a look at Klimt’s other painting famously known as Pallas Athena. In this painting we see a total contrast of what Klimt enjoys doing rather prefers doing. The female perception is very different from what we get from the previous painting.
Sexuality of a woman or heterosexuality is none of the themes in this painting. This research is going top so much dwell on the mythology behind this painting, Pallas Athena, and the iconography that is employed in the same. We are going to attempt to answer the question; what is the unique thing that is depicted in this painting? Why did Klimt sway from his normal theme? What is the female picture in all about in these painting? why does Klimt seem fascinated by powerful, threatening and dangerous female figures? Main Body Overview of the Goddess Athena
The cult of Athena existed since time immemorial in Greece. Myths regarding this goddess were often rewritten to adapt the different cultural changing times in ancient Greek traditions. Between 42and 347 B. C. E one of the Greek philosophers, Plato,made identified This goddess with the Egyptian deity and Neith the Libyan deity as a goddess of hunting and war. This was during the early times referred to as predynastic. With time philosophy was applied with cult and hence Athena was referred to as the goddess of wisdom. This happened during the fifth century.
She was also represented as the patroness of crafts and weaving, famously known as Athena Ergane. It his believed that she initiated the creation of metals. She is perceived to have had wisdom over the cunning intelligence of some of other figures e. g. Oddysseus. At most times she is accompanied by Nike, who is a goddess of victory who in established icons, as we shall see later, offers Athena an extended hand. And she is also attended by an owl. In late myths, Athena wears a goatskin breastplate which is believed to have been given to her by Zeus her father. The goatskin breastplate was known as the Aegis.
In most works she is seen with a helmet and a shield bearing the head of Gorgon Medusa who was referred to as the goddess Gorgoneion and was the hallmark of the early goddess cult in Greece. This shield as we shall see later is believed to be a votive gift of Perseus. We also see that a serpent is always accompanying the goddess and is shown at the base of the staff of her lace. There exists a less in frequency of association of ships, horses as well as chariots with this goddess. Athena is believed by Greeks as a goddess who is a helper of the many other gods and goddesses including Heracles, Oddysseus and Jason.
She is also believed, accoding to the classical myth of the Greeks as a goddess without a lover, hence the name Athena Parthenos. A synonym of this is Athena the virgin. There exists an archaic myth that she was the mother of Erichthonius who she conceived by an attempted rape of Hephaestus, which as said to have failed. Another variation story of the serpent, also Erichthonius, say that he was born to Gaia the earth, when the rape to Athena failed and the semen landed on Gaia. Gaia became pregnant and after giving birth he was, the serpent, given to Athena by Gaia.
In performing her roles and one of them being the protector of the city, she is also referred to as Athena Polias, meaning Athena of the city. She is believed to have had a special relationship with Athens. This is because of the etymological connection that exists in the names between the goddess and the city. Mythology of Athena Her birth According to Robert Graves an his book, the Greek myths he tells us about some of the early myths of Athena. She is believed to be a goddess who originated from Libya. Her worship to the Greeks came after the visitation of Crete as early as 4 000 BC.
It is clear from his book that Hesiod (700bc) had a strong relation of Athena as a parthenogenesis daughter of Metis. Metis is a representation of wisdom or knowledge. He is a Titan who is believed to have ruled the planet mercury and the fourth day. Other variants argue that Zeus became the consort of Metis when his cult became dominant is said that Zeus swallowed Metis so that she could not bear any offspring. And also to avoid prophesy when change occurred that Metis was greater that Him. It was further believed that Metis was already pregnant.
Metis is believed to have given birth to Athena and natured her inside Zeus. It reached a point when Athena finally busted from Zeus’s forehead. The Olympian version of the birth of Athena It is believed according to this version of Athena birth, that she was a remade favorite daughter of Zeus. Where she was born fully armed from the swallowing of her mother, who was pregnant at the time. The story of her birth is seen in several versions. One of the commonly cited versions states that after Zeus had laid with Metis, who was perceived as the goddess of wisdom, thought and crafty, he immediately feared the consequences.
He feared that Metis would eventually bore heirs who would be more powerful than himself. So as to avoid these consequences Zeus decided to swallow Metis all of a sudden. This happened when it was already too late and Metis had already conceived a child. Finally it is believed that Zeus was ion great pain and one of the many gods; Hephaestus, Palaemon among others, depending on the source cut Zeus head with a double headed axe, Minoan in nature. Athena finally leaped from Zeus head and she was fully grown. She was also armed and made a loud shout of war.
Ouranos heard Athena cry and was so trembled with fear. According to Plato, the Minoan culture of Crete was a source of the cult of Athena, from which saw the dawn of the Greek culture. It is also believed that, Hera, got so annoyed at the time. Apparently because Zeus produced a child by his own. She forced herself into conceiving and bearing herself a child. The child was known as Hephaestus. It is stated that Metis never bore any child after this incident. Therefore Zeus retained his supremacy in reigning in the mountain of Olympus. Greek myths became static at this point.
The Pallas Athena story One of the major origin stories of Pallas Athena involves her mysterious epithets. There is belief that there existed a separate entity called Pallas who is invoked and it is not really defined whether he is Athena’s brother, sister or opponent. They are engaged in a fight and finally Athena wins and takes the name for her. . Gustav Klimt and Pallas Athena Gustav Klimt was born in Vienna on July 14; 1862. He was an Austrian symbolist painter. Klimt's main subject was the female body He is a product of a time when great change was taking place.
This great change was known as a “self indulgent metropolis(Comini page 6)”. During this period people were listening what was known as Strauss’s operas. They were occasionally debating over sex made by Freud wherein startling postulations were. There existed a famous association during this time whose philosophy was known as “to the age its art and to art its freedom”. Klimpt belonged to this association. He had both talent and message. Klimt therefore decided that he was going to take eroticism to a step least expected by people of that period.
As we can read from Comini page 8 we can clearly see that Gustav Klimt was a man who really wanted not anything les than personal freedom. He had a strong desire to denounce establishment. He once said”………. Enough of censorship……….. I want to get free………out of all these unrefreshing absurdities that hinder my work, and get back to freedom………………I denounce everything. ” He is seen from his art work that he was a man who was highly provocative. His works are seen to be alluring. His works had different themes ranging from beauty themes to haunting themes.
He is seen as one of the most brilliant erotic artists of all time. In his art works and especially the human psyche we can see that he has expressed the inside contained fears and longings of man. His work portrays a contrast of several aspects of humanity e. g. : combination of beauty that is extremely imaginable and horrid ugliness at the same time; dualism of love and fear; insufferability of evil and hopefulness of good. Klimt has used natural figures and natural backgrounds at the same time to manifest the interplay within the above aspects.
He has richly used sumptuous jewelry e. g. gold and startling color to give a beautiful touch to his works. Among his paintings are the ravishing paintings of beautiful women, sprawling figures in constant movement and demonstrations of demons of the unconscious mind. Gustav Klimt has applied the use of classical myth iconography as a derivative of antiquity in his many images of Athena. It is evident that Klimt took his inspiration from the 16th century water jar or the famous Attic-style hydria during those times. This work has an innovative aspect of iconography.
It is neither inspired by classical myth or tradition. Klimt is inspired by the spirit of creative conflict. I will discuss this aspect using his 1898 painting known as Pallas Athena. Athena or sometimes called Pallas was a goddess of ancient Greeks. She was believed to be a war goddess. The Romans also referred to her as Minerva and placed her in the third position after Jupiter and Juno who were also their gods. The Greeks and Romans worshiped her as the goddess of craft in both weaving and spinning. According to mythology she was a favorite daughter of Zeus, the greatest of the gods in Greek.
She was usually shown dressed in a helmet and in her hands a spear and shield. She also wore a goatskin breastplate that bore magic powers just like her father. The breastplate, fringed with several snakes, was believed to produce thunderbolts when shaken. She was also believed to be a representation of the civilized and intellectual aspects of war unlike the war god Ares. The Greeks believed that Athens was capable of protecting all the cities and states. According to this myth it is clear that Athena possesses a curious genderless power.
It is why one is left to wonder, is she male or is he male? Maybe her myth persona is just uncertain. To the normal people and maybe non-Greeks war and wisdom might look like strange mindmates of Athena. But it is just fascinating how this persona works in her In his painting Gustav Klimt presents the image of Athena as a different persona since classical antiquity. She is outstanding among his other paintings of the famous femmes. It is unlike the other femme fatals e. g. Judith that was done in 1991 and Danae 1907-8 that expressed so much the overwhelmingness in their sexuality.
Klimt was so much interested in the divinity in Athena than her sexuality. Maybe, to Klimt, divinity is the catalyst role those power plays in sexuality. This might be true since over the time it has been found that power is an ingredient to sexual stimuli in human behavior. It is also been found that sexual desire and the desire for power are strongly connected. This posses Athena, an asexual Greek goddess, as Klimt’s most powerful female art figure. He appears to have followed the myth iconography at a fairly strict manner in the Pallas Athene 1989 painting.
In his painting we see all the primary and secondary attributes. There is the helmet, an owl, aegis with gorgoneion and the spear. There is an aspect of originality in this painting because of the accomplishments he has done with these images. He has made many statements with the enigmatic nature of this painting. We can derive the element of less romance and more symbolism in Klimt’s classicism. Klimt’s adoption method is seen to have evolved from whole figures and objects used by artists in the 18 through to the 19th centuries.
In his subsidiary decoration Klimt has used a remarkable combination of objects. He has successfully merged past and present into a single synthesis. It seems ironic the way Klimt brings up the concept of archaism in this painting. Previously in some of the art works, Athena bore almond eyes an archaic smile and wavy eyebrows. Klimt ensures that there is the philosophical aspect of an older icon bearing greater value than the present icon. He exercises deliberate archaism. He attempts to hack back to the older heavier model possessed by the goddess who was highly and truly worshiped than later.
Klimt gets a Homeric trope from previous representation of Athena in “Child of Zeus of the Aegis” and “The grim goddess” and adopts the iconography in them. It is also possible that Klimt deliberately chose a helmet that is of a particular Corinthian period for Athena. This helmet seems as an extension of Athena’s head where we see the parting of her coppery hair following from the bronze. This division seems like it was solely activated by mental prowess that is divine oriented. It is evident therefore from this art work that Klimt portrays Anthena as a personified source of power but not as a lover.
We can see some aspects of dimensional in Klimt’s work. He has so much prioritized the importance of eyes and this can be seen as scale of sightedness. There is the aspect of mortality in the painting; this can be seen in the left hand side of the painting where the human female is seen on a two dimensional black figure background. We can not see the goddesses’ eyes in this side of the painting. On the right hand side of the painting is Herakles and Triton-Achelous who are wrestling. They are presented on a two dimensional background. This is a representation of the goddess Athena, in a more powerful position than the heroic Heracles.
Athena is very powerful such that the monster Medusa and Gorgon, that could turn mortals into stones, is reduced to a bronze ornament on Athena’s breast. We can also see from the painting that Bobus the owl possesses clear eyes that are nocturnal and look like they belong to a human being. They seem like they have been given an animation power by the goddess. These eyes have a very powerful power of penetrating the darkness. And finally we can perceive that the eyes of the goddess are more powerful and full of life. This brings out the immortality and three dimensionality in her as a goddess.
In his work, Pallas Athena seems to be more frightening. One is left to wonder, what is the dreadful figure; is it the goddess or the monster? We can see that both faces have been filled with coppery hair. I can say that this shows the aspect of full divinity in Athena as compared to the partial divinity in the monster. Actually Athena is a portray of an epitome of apotropaism. She is not a simple goddess who we can oppose in mind or weapon. She is not a mere mask that is designed to chase away evil but she is seen as the real thing. She is seen by a viewer as a friend, a companion maybe.
She possesses strong eyes that look so right with a mortal. She is a figure of strength and wisdom and one is obligated to worshiping her. Another major theme that can be derived from Klimt’s painting is the power of the goddess authority over politics and culture. It is seen from the bottom left corner of the painting that there stands a nude woman that has a mirror of modern man. In the right background is Hercules who looks like a wrestles Triton. Klimt presents Athena with unbridled red hair and a golden helmet. She is emerging from a bluish shadow which is a femme fatele Klimt which Klimt was fond of painting.
On his chest is a medusa head that extends its tongue in ridicule of the failures of succession of power. Another theme from the Pallas Athena painting is the theme of Struggle against ignorance. His iconography in this painting is not just an order but imposes the reality of punishment at the hands of sunken eyes and naked female fatales. Though in a deep but yet spaceless world, the victim of justice is seen consumed by a polyp that is womb like. There is an unmasking of law and a fair judgment as an instinctual vengeance and in words respectively
Though mythological imagery was largely implied by Klimt in his painting it is evident in Pallas Athena where we see the goddess possessing very powerful eyes which are also stiff. This stance in Athena’s face is very compelling. There is juxtaposition of the Asiatic face and the classical Greek figure which is excellently presented. Mythological imagery was a frequent topic of Klimt's oeuvre. I find the glaring eyes and stiff, powerful stance of his Athena to be quite compelling. I love the juxtaposition of the classical Greek figure in the background with the vaguely Asiatic face on her breastplate.
Summary Gustav Klimt is highly appreciated as one of the greatest decorative painters of the 20th century and an art Nouveau at the same time. He has a place in erotic art through his artistic themes of the female sexuality in the female figure. George Fliedel comments that “there is no denying that erotic represented one of Klimt’s most important sources of inspiration”. But in Pallas Athena is a totally different representation of the female fatele. His use of iconology is Klimt’s representation of Athena as the goddess of wisdom who is a representation of an embodiment of enlightened philosophy.
This representation is designed to impart light to the Austrian nation which is politically and socially ravaged . The Austrian nation was so much in the spiritual and cultural darkness. It is no wonder Klimt decided that the ignorance of people would be subjected to confronting illness of Viennese society through a pictorial concept. He often presented simultaneous ideas that there was a possibility of escaping from the demoralized situation and a possibility of attaining an ideal existence within themselves. Conclusion Gustav Klimt was a highly renowned symbolist artist of the symbolism period.
He used to major on the female figure as his central figure for art. He mostly painted and drew the female sexualism as his theme. But it is evident from his representation of the female figure Athena, a goddess of the Greek people, that he had nothing to do with erocism when he was doing this painting. He has implemented iconography to represent the different myths as perceived by the Greece. At the same time he is addressing the modern world and tries to tell people, through his painting, that we should embrace the present in as much as the past was there.
Vast themes are ranging from feminine power and wisdom through to the general theme of ignorance and judgment. He remains among us though long dead through his works that gives us life teachings. If he were here today, maybe he would have done one of those themes, politics, which have always done the women proud. Maybe Hillary Clinton as Millennium Athena or what is your opinion? References 1. Mark P. O Marford, Robert J Lenardon, Classical mythology; Oxford University Press, 2002. 2. Herbet Jennings Rose, A handbook of Greek Mythology; Routledge, 1991. 3.
Carlos parade, Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology; P A Stroms Forloag, 1993. 4. Lucilla Burn, Greek myths; University of Texas press, 1990. 5. Gilles Neret, Gustav Klimt: 1862-1918; Taschen, 2000. 6. Colin B, Bailey, Gustav Klimt: Modernism in the making; Harry N Abrams Art, Modern, 2001. 7. Tatjana Paul; Gustav Klimt; Rizzoli International publications, 2001. 8. Nina Kransel, Gustav Klimt; Prestel Publishing Artists, 2007. 9. Gabriel James Worth, Pallas Athene:A book of Attic Greek;Uniiversity Press,1928 10. Karl Kerenyi,Athene:Virgin and Mother;A study of Pallas Athene;Spring Athena(Greek Deity)
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