Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Pagan Art: "Pallas Athena" by Gustav Klimt


Klimt's Pallas Athena (1898) is an unusual painting for Klimt, whose work is often sensuous and highly sexual. By contrast, his depiction of the Goddess is filled with a sense of nobility and veneration. She is shown in her usual garb of helmet and armour, and is obviously more than capable of defending her honour.

The Medusa aegis that is typically shown mounted on her shield is transferred, for reasons of artistic convenience, to the mantle of her armour.

According to one legend, Medusa was a priestess of Athena but was raped by Poseidon. In a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, Athena then made Medusa hideously ugly. This form of chastity – chastity by repulsiveness – contrasts with the Goddess's chastity, which results from her power. This is secured by violence as testified by her amour and weapons, and also the small, naked figurine of Nike (Victory) in her right hand.

The background shows the owl that is associated with her, as well as a scene of Herakles wrestling with Triton, taken from an Attic black figure vase that is now in Toledo.

Even for a lascivious artist like Klimt, there was no other way to paint Athena. He too had to bend to the Goddess's untouchable chastity.

The painting is now in the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna.

2 comments:

  1. When I first saw the picture of this painting, I took the Medusa on her chest to mean the Medusa within. You know the kind of monster some women can become.

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  2. Luckily my experience of women turning into monsters is relatively limited. I must be such a sweet guy.

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