Gustav Klimt: Death and Life

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Gustav Klimt, (1910) Death and Life

Gustav Klimt’s painting Death and Life, (1910), features not a personal death but rather merely an allegorical figure who gazes at “life” with a malicious grin. The painting is comprised of two halves: on the left, the figure of Death is the classic grim reaper, a grinning skeleton, covered in a blue robe decorated with symbols. To the right are a group of women, at various stages of life, one of whom is held by a dark, muscular man, who is not entirely noticeable at first glance. This exemplifies Klimt’s preoccupation with the female form and his celebration of women as life-givers. All generations are represented in this circle of life, from the baby to the grandmother. The women do nor cower from Death, indeed they seem oblivious to him. The painting only depicts moments of intense pleasure and calm. Perhaps this new found serenity is rooted in Klimt’s own awareness of aging and his closeness to death.

Klimt described this painting as his most important figurative work. However, in 1915, he began making changes to the painting. The background, reportedly once gold-coloured, was painted over in grey, and both Death and the circle of women were given further ornamentation.

Much of Klimt’s work incorporates themes of death and life. In his 1908 painting, Hope I, for example, a pregnant woman stares out at the viewer, behind her, masklike faces symbolising madness, sorrow and death.

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Gustav Klimt, (1908) Hope I.

Death and Life was clearly influential for Klimt’s contemporaries among them Egon Schiele.

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Egon Schiele, (1915), Death and the Maiden

In Schiele’s painting, the woman appears to have crawled towards the figure of Death on her bended knees, and appears relieved as he embraces her.

Klimt himself may have drawn inspiration from the artist Edvard Munch, who created numerous representations of the relationship between life and death.

Above left: Edvard Munch, (1899) The Three Stages of Woman. Above right: Edvard Munch, (1894) Death and the Maiden.

Klimt’s original painting, Death and Life won the first prize at the World Exhibition in Rome in 1911. It remains one of the iconic images associated with this great artist.

Prostitution in Renaissance Italy: The “Necessary Evil”

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Great post on prostitution and same sex attraction from Dirty Sexy History.

Dirty, Sexy History

fig-1-brothel A 15th-century depiction of a brothel. You can imagine the man walking in saying, “Well, at least the prostitutes are women.”

In the wake of the fourteenth-century plague, which killed over half of Italy’s populations, cities were faced with a crisis. To make matters worse, Italian men seemed uninterested in repopulating the peninsula, struck by a sin worse than death—same-sex attraction. Fifteenth-century preacher Bernardino of Siena railed that “even the Devil flees in horror at the sight of this sin.”

Italian cities responded by encouraging prostitution. In 1403, the government of Florence opened an office to promote prostitution in order to prevent the worse sin of sodomy. Venice legalized prostitution in 1358 and created a brothel district in the commercial heart of the city, the Rialto.

fig-2-meretrice Cesare Vecellio’s “Public Whore” waves a flag and wears high-heeled chopines. (1598)

Prostitution was a reality of life in Renaissance Italy. But in spite…

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Klimt’s Forests and Gardens

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Klimt’s Forests and Gardens

Gustav Klimt is probably best known for his portraits of women. However, he also created many beautiful landscapes during his career.

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Gustav Klimt Fir Forest, 1901

Tannenwald or Fir Forest the first of several in a series. The artist also depicted other types of trees using contrasting styles over the course of his career.

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Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life, 1905

From his holiday home in Litzlberg, Klimt went for wandering around the woods for days on end, searching for the right spot to create his forest paintings. Here, the trees appear in groups on either side of the canvas; the small clearing in the middle to allowing a feeling of depth, albeit reduced, which draws the eye into the painting. The trunks are stylised: narrow with a strict vertical rhythm, suggesting entrapment – no way out; the glimpse of sky a whisper to the outside world. The series is as a study of how light and time affect natural objects. Tannenwald II, also painted in 1901 features a similar scene, with Klimt choosing to offer greater detail on the fir trees, and without the glade seen in his earlier work. Both paintings were completed in 1901.

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Gustav Klimt, Fir Forest II, 1901

Tannenwald I and II were produced on square canvas, which is relatively rare for landscape painting but reflects how the artist was aiming to produce art which suited for exhibiting at that time.

Klimt’s landscapes express his wider concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life. Their dazzling decorative surfaces and abstracted motifs align him with emergent modernist tendencies. He later experimented with various styles for his landscape paintings, showcasing his diverse range of skill.

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Gustav Klimt, The Park, 1909

The foliage in The Park 1909–10 is flattened while the trunks, diminishing in size give a feeling of depth. His earlier Country Garden with Sunflowers recalls the symbiosis of naturalism and ornament, and at first glance could be mistaken for one of his portraits of women.

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Gustav Klimt, Country Garden With Sunflowers, 1906

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Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen, 1889

Klimt’s landscapes are now a highly admired aspect of his oeuvre. However, he remains best known for his paintings of women, especially The Kiss and his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

 

 

Adam and Eve: The First Love Story

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Adam and Eve: The First Love Story

To celebrate the pre-release of my new novella THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, I’ll be blogging about some of the gorgeous works of art I studied during the course of my research, beginning with Gustav Klimt’s beautiful but unfinished painting Adam and Eve, 1917-18. This one didn’t make it as far as the final edit I’m afraid, but it’s still one of my favourites.

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Gustav Klimt is perhaps best remembered for his portraits of women, preferring the female body in terms of anatomy, aesthetics and form. After his father and brother died, Klimt lived the rest of his life with his mother and sisters, and is known for his open relationship with Viennese fashion designer Emilie Floge and his numerous affairs with his female muses. As he had little interest in religion in general, it seems probable that the painting is a study of the female nude, more so than it is a biblical work of art. However, the relationship between the two figures is indicative of the power Eve had over Adam at the moment before The Fall.

Eve looks directly out at the viewer, full of vitality and confidence. She is painted in light colours, advancing towards the eye; the blue floral motifs are striking against her golden hair.

Adam, by contrast recedes, fading into the background. He is passive, somnolent; at first glance we hardly notice he is there at all. Traditionally in art, the moon represents femininity and the sun is more associated with the masculine. Here, Klimt turns tradition on its head; Eve dominates the whole composition.

The painting is also reminiscent of Klimt’s earlier, and most famous work, The Kiss.

In The Kiss, however, the man is dominant.

The iconic pose in here, with the head at a unnatural angle is mirrored in several of Klimt’s paintings. In the other works however, when the woman dominates, a child is often the passive figure.

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Gustav Klimt died suddenly in 1918, before Adam and Eve could be finished. It now hangs in the Belvedere in Vienna.

I’ll be blogging about more of Klimt’s beautiful works of art next week. In the mean time, my novella, THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA is now available on pre-order from Amazon

THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA

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Who is the young woman with the haunting gaze in Gustav Klimt’s 1917 masterpiece, The Women Friends?

Selina Brunner is running from the demons of her past, cut off from her family in a sleepy Tyrolean village, and lost in the soulless city of Vienna, where everything – even one’s very existence – is a lie.

When, amidst growing fear of sinister developments in Vienna, an exotic stranger comes to town, Selina finds old passions reignited and her whole world turned upside down.

The Women Friends: Selina is the first in a series of fictional tales about the women who inspired this great artist.

 

Porajmos: The Romani Holocaust

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The Romani people have been equally romanticised as wandering free spirits and demonised as societal carbuncles who lie, cheat and steal. Their nomadic lifestyle can mean they are ethnically isolated and communally disconnected. As a people, they have been subjected to racism, persecution and slavery.

In many ways, the fate of Roma in 1930s Europe mirrored that of the Jewish population. Roma too were subject to a planned genocide, an attempt to exterminate a people who the Nazis referred to as enemies of the race based state.  It is believed that over a quarter of the one million Roma living in Europe at that time were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

But persecution of the Romani population began long before the Nazis came to power. Prejudices were based on a number of factors, including scientific racism and Social Darwinism, which took the approach that races were not variations of a single species but were instead evidence of beings from distinctly different biological origins. This theory supported a racial hierarchy where certain minority groups were seen as inferior to other sections of society. Furthermore, rapid modernisation in Germany at the turn of the century also served to marginalise the Romani population and their traditional way of life as craftsmen and artisans.

In 1899, the Imperial Police Headquarters in Munich established the Information Services on Romani. The Security Police kept records, fingerprints, photographs, etc. and continuous surveillance on the Roma community. Roma in the Weimar Republic were prohibited from using public swimming pools, parks, and other recreational areas, and depicted throughout Germany and Europe as criminals and spies.

In 1926, the Law for the Fight Against Gypsies, Vagrants and the Work-shy was passed in Bavaria, stipulating that groups identifying as ‘Gypsies’ were not allowed to travel to the region. Those already living in the Bavaria were banned from roaming or camping in groups. Any who did not find regular employment risked being sent to forced labour camps. This model was adopted by other German states and neighbouring countries, thus the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Romani community was outlawed. Roma were labelled as criminals, alcoholics, prostitutes, beggars and vagabonds.

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Roma Family During the Porajmos

 

After Hitler’s rise to power, legislation against the Roma was increasingly based upon a rhetoric of racism. The Nazis established the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit (Rassenhygienische und Bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle, Department L3 of the Reich Department of Health) in 1936, headed by Dr Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin. Their mandate was to provide the required data to support a new Reich law against the Roma. The unit conducted interviews and invasive medical examinations in 1936 and concluded that the majority of Roma,  (around 90%) who were not of ‘pure Gypsy blood,’ were a threat to German racial purity and as such should be deported or exterminated. Several suggestions were made regarding the fate of the remaining 10%, largely made up of people from the Sinti and Lalleri tribes living in Germany. Heinrich Himmler suggested moving them to a remote reservation, as the United States had done to Native Americans. According to him:

“The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies. The necessary legal foundation can only be created through a Gypsy Law, which prevents further intermingling of blood, and which regulates all the most pressing questions which go together with the existences of Gypsies in the living space of the German nation.”

The Reich however never followed Himmler’s suggestion.

Instead, on November 26, 1935, the |Nuremberg race laws were expanded to also apply to the Roma, stripping them of their citizenship and forbidding marriage or extramarital intercourse with German people. Roma were transferred to municipal internment camps on the outskirts of cities before being sent to concentration camps. 23,000 Roma were sent to Auschwitz alone, where they were forced to wear a brown inverted triangle to distinguish them from other inmates, or the green triangle, which marked them out as professional criminals.

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It is known that extensive medical research was carried out on the inmates of Auschwitz, and horrific surgical procedures such as amputations and injecting chemicals into the eyes were carried out. Auschwitz’s most notorious doctor, Josef Mengele seemed particularly interested in Romani children.

Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:

“I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents—I remember the mother’s name was Stella—managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.”

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Josef Mengele

 

Initially there was disagreement within the Nazi circles about how to solve the so-called “Gypsy Question,” but in 1944, the decision was made to exterminate the entire Romani population. However, the Roma did attempt resistance, at Auschwitz arming themselves with iron pipes, shovels, and other tools used for labor. The SS chose not to confront the Roma directly and withdrew for several months. After transferring as many as 3,000 Roma who were capable of forced labor to Auschwitz I and other concentration camps, the SS moved against the remaining 2,898 inmates on August 2, killing almost all of the remaining inmates — most of whom were ill, elderly men, women, or children, in the gas chambers. At least 19,000 of the 23,000 Roma sent to Auschwitz died there.

It is not known how many Romani deaths there were altogether. Estimates range from 220,000 to 1,500,000.

The German government never paid war reparations to Romani survivors. West Germany recognised the genocide of the Roma in 1982, and since then the Porajmos has been increasingly recognised as a genocide committed simultaneously with the Jewish holocaust.

scrollEmma Rose Millar is author of the award winning novel FIVE GUNS BLAZING. Her novella, THE WOMEN FRIENDS:SELINA, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s sensuous masterpiece, will be published in December 2016. For further information visit Emma’s author page on Amazon.

Gustav Klimt and the Ravenna Mosaics

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The splendour of Byzantine churches with their glinting domes and stunning mosaics can be seen spread throughout the Mediterranean. Nowhere are they more beautiful than in Italy; St Marks in Venice and Monreale Cathedral being two of the most spectacular examples.

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St. Marks Basillica, Venice

We know that Gustav Klimt was a frequent visitor to both Venice and Ravenna, and it seems likely that he drew inspiration from the glorious Byzantine art which he would have been surrounded by in both cities.

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In ancient times, Ravenna was a thriving seaport, which rose to power in the 1st century BC under the Emperor Augustus. The town converted to Christianity in the early 2nd century AD. As Rome’s power declined, Ravenna was made capital of the Western Empire in 402 AD. The following century it came under the rule of Thedoric and the Arian Ostrogoths, and in 540 the city became part of the Byzantine empire under Justinian. Justinian reigned as emperor between 527 and 565. His building campaigns, especially in Constantinople, align him with the great Roman Imperial builders like Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian. His structures combined defensive walls with highly decorative interiors. Religious piety had long been a priority of Roman authority. For Justinian, the construction of temples and altars was a tangible expression of his piety, linking him to his ancestral traditions. He considered himself the defender, both of political order and of the religious Orthodoxy, launching a series of military campaigns against the Ostrogoths, who had been converted to Arian Christianity, considered a heretical form of the faith. For Justinian, the Emperor was anointed by God as the chosen leader of the empire. The Ravenna mosaics clearly reflect Justinian’s religious and political priorities.

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In Justinian and his Attendants, (above), Justinian is surrounded by members of the clergy to his left with the most prominent figure, the Bishop Maximianus of Ravenna being labelled with an inscription. To Justinian’s right are members of the imperial administration wearing a purple stripe against their white robes, and at the very far left side of the mosaic appears a group of soldiers, one of whom is holding a bejewelled shield.

This mosaic thus establishes the central position of the Emperor between the power of the church and the power of the imperial administration and military.

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In Constantine, Justinian and the Christ Child, (above), from the Vestibule of Hagia Sophia, we see Emperors on either side of the Virgin, enthroned with the Infant Saviour. She is flanked by Constantine the Great as a saint and Justinian the First; both emperors are haloed.  The Virgin holds the Infant in her lap.  Constantine carries the City that bares his name, while Justinian supports in his hands the Church of St. Sophia.  The green ground beneath the figures recedes away in darkening horizontal layers, drawing the eye into the mosaic, giving a three-dimensional backdrop to the two-dimensional figures.  The bright gold tiles create an air of celestial brilliance around the figures with their blue robes.

Byzantine art is characterised by two-dimentional portraiture, often of mythical and religious scenes. The jewel pigments combine with gold make the walls explode with colour, vibrating with every pulse of light. Originally, the cathedrals would have been lit only by candles. In the darkness, the flames would have danced over the surfaces of the mosaics; the effect would have been dazzling.

We can clearly see this Byzantine influence in Gustav Klimt’s work. Note the flat visual planes, gold leaf and mosaic-like designs in both The Kiss and the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, (below). Square and rectangular forms are tessellated against one an other, giving the impression of gold tiles, their vibrancy brought out by the indigo and amethyst shades typical of the Byzantine mosaics.

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But while the Byzantine mosaics were the epitome of religious piety, Klimt uses this style in an erotically charged way, celebrating the female form and female sexuality. In Judith I, (1901), tones of gold and blue are juxtaposed on the fabric around Judith’s shoulders and the collar around her neck, which appears almost to be throttling her as she gazes out at the viewer with her lips parted and her eyes half shut. The collar is encrusted with jewells, reminiscent of the shield in In Justinian and his Attendants.

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Throughout his career, Klimt drew from a myriad of influences: Japanese Rinpa art, Impressionism, classical Greek and Egyptian styles being just a few examples. But his most famous paintings owe a great deal to the Byzantine mosaics he saw during his many visits to Northern Italy.

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Emma Rose Millar is author of the award winning novel FIVE GUNS BLAZING. Her second novel, THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, will be published by Crooked Cat Books in December 2016. For further details, visit her author page on Amazon.

The Seven Years’ Cake War: Sachertorte

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With its velvety chocolate icing and lashings of tangy apricot jam, Sachertorte has become Austria’s national dessert. But the history of this luxurious chocolate cake is as rich and as dark as the Sachertorte itself.

In 1832 Prince Clemens Lother Wensel Metternich, the Austrian State Chancellor placed an order for a special dessert for himself and his dinner guests. Orders were sent to the court kitchen where there was instant mayhem; the royal pastry chef was sick. When it became clear that none of the cooks knew what to make, the 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher rolled up his sleeves and set about creating a dessert which was to be celebrated to this day. According to legend the recipe came from his sister Anna. The prince’s guests fell in love with the indulgent chocolate cake, and the Sachertorte was born.

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Prince Clemens Lother Wensel Metternich

This was only the beginning of Franz Sacher’s success story. The Sachertorte, along with some of his other desserts made him prosperous, and he was able to open several cafes and restaurants. He handed down his secret recipe to his son, Eduard Sacher, who also trained as a pastry chef at the imperial and royal pastry store Demel. Eduard refined his father’s recipe, honing and perfecting it until it became the dish we know and love today. Demel was the first pastry store to sell the Original Sachertortre.

In 1876 Eduard Sacher opened the hotel Sacher. The Sachertorte became a staple of the menu there. Its popularity around Vienna grew and was a favourite of the imperial family. Sacher’s kitchen, staffed by four chefs, exclusively made this special chocolate cake. Up to 400 Sachertorten were sold a day and sent to Paris, Berlin and London by sea

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Eduard Sacher died in 1892, leaving his wife Anna to run the hotel. After her death in 1930, the hotel was sold. The son of Anna and Eduard Sacher, also called Eduard Sacher, found employment at the pastry store Demel. He transferred the sole selling rights for the Eduard Sachertorte to Demel.

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In 1938 the new owner of the Hotel Sacher started to sell the Sachertorte from vendor carts, selling the cake as the Original Sachertorte, which he registered as a trade mark. This Original Sachertorte, had two layers of apricot jam, one underneath the chocolate glaze and one in the middle of the cake itself. It was also made with margarine instead of butter.

The pastry store Demel was furious. This was the beginning of a long-standing feud between the two businesses. The time period between 1950 and 1957 is referred as the Seven Years Cake War between Demel and Sacher. Both parties were fighting about the right to use the term Original Sachertorte, about the second layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake and the use of margarine instead of butter. In 1965 Sacher and Demel made an out-of-court agreement, giving Hotel Sacher exclusive rights to name their cake Original Sachertorte. Demel’s Sachertorte, with its one layer of jam, received the official title Eduard Sachertorte. The stand off over the famous Austrian cake was over and peace was restored to Vienna once more.

These days almost 1000 Sachertorten are produced every single day by the Hotel Sacher. Every year 1.2 million eggs, 80 tons of sugar, 70 tons of chocolate, 37 tons of apricot jam, 25 tons of butter and 30 tons of flour are needed. There is one assistant who is just responsible to crack 7500 eggs every single day!

The sumptuous cake, Sachertorte is best enjoyed with a generous dollop of cream and a steaming pot of coffee.

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Emma Rose Millar is author of the award winning novel FIVE GUNS BLAZING. Her second novel, THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, will be published by Crooked Cat Books in December 2016. For further details, visit her author page on Amazon.