The image of the femme fatale originated in ancient times, and already existed in Jewish-Christian culture. The femme fatale has appeared throughout history in the form of different women and was usually given names originated in biblical stories: Eve, Lilith, Salome, Judith, and many more. While religious themes were often communicated in the Renaissance and Baroque art period due to their close link to the Catholic church, the themes of Biblical stories had died down by the end of 19th to the 20th century. Most artists had decided to abandon historical styles, and thought it was important to explore modern ideas and stories instead. The theme of the femme fatale was particularly prominent in the 19th century, and at the turn of the 20th century, often expressed in art, literature, poetry, theater and then eventually in the cinema too. In the story of Judith Beheading Holofernes, Judith was usually portrayed as pious, noble, and determined woman who risks her life in order to save her people in the Renaissance and Baroque art period. While the artists at end of the 19th century and 20th century have turned Judith, into a femme fatale; The definition of femme fatale from the Merriam Webster Dictionary states that a femme fatale is 1.
A seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations and/or 2. a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery. In the very patriarchal society, men did not like to think of Judith as a possibility. A woman triumphing over man was unthinkable, and therefore was treated as the most mythical of allegories. Judith used her beauty and intelligence against men, and was therefore determined to be deceitful and immoral.Judith I, an oil painting completed in 1901, was the first works of Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt’s, “golden period”, in which the artist used gold flakes in his canvases. In Klimt’s version, Judith I, Klimt practically stripped the story of its biblical ties with Judith as a religious heroine, and devoted the piece entirely towards the female sexuality. His version of Judith was controversial due to Judith being a virtuous woman in the bible, while in his portyael she becomes a cruel murder, who seems to be high with ecstasy whilst holding her victim’s head.
While in the other depictions of Judith, the focal point of the painting tends to be the actual threatening element of Judith slaying/beheading Holofernes, the focal point and the threatening element of this painting is not accompanied by the gory decapitation of Holofernes, but by the depiction of Judith’s sensuality. Her image gives offs a sense of sexual tension. There seems to be one light source appears from below, emphasizing her facial features, which accentuates the expression on her face of sensual triumph. The usual gory depiction of Holofernes is now barely anywhere in sight, and causes an asymmetrical balance between Holofernes decapitated head and Judith’s shoulders, but there still seems to be a balance in the painting, due to how much Judith takes over the entire painting, making her in (the middle) and the emphasis. The setting of Klimt’s work is not in a dark gloomy tent, but instead it is outside among 2D dimensional shape shimmering golden trees, and turquoise grass, which gives off a rough and woodcut type of texture. The colour scheme of the oil painting is simple, gold, turquoise, and some black and browns. Although entire piece consists of a warm and bright colour scheme, there is a contrast between the gold background and the blackness of Judith’s hair, which emphasizes her facial features.
There are also similarities between this art nouveau painting and the byzantine style. Gustav Klimt took inspiration from gold and also uses themes of symbolism by incorporating the gold-lead landscape behind her with laden palm trees which is reministic of ancient Assyrian wall drawings of the Tree of Life. We also see modern inspirations with the way Judith is dressed: she is sporting a heavy gold choker, that would have been very fashionable in early twentieth-century Vienna, especially by Venetian fashion designer Emilie Floge who designed many of the dresses used in Klimt’s paintings. The painting was commissioned and bought by Ferdinand Hodler, husband to the model in the painting, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which he commissioned as a gift for Adele’s parents anniversary.