Medicine Gustav Klimt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Gustav Klimt was commissioned by the University of Vienna to paint an elaborate ceiling painting for their Great Hall, from 1900 to 1907. The painting illustrates an array of nude male and female figures, accompanied by super natural visuals within a body of water.

The primary focus of the painting illustrated in the top left section is of a naked woman floating within the allegory of space, as her child in reborn below her feet. The woman's hair transforms into an umbilical cord that holds the river of life where the naked humans are mixed in together.

A skeleton is located among the people, illustrating the symbol of death. The river of life illustrates an array of bodies intertwined together, with different characteristics that proclaim a story. A woman holds her child to her as she is tangled in the water, alongside men folded with their backs showed to the viewer. An old man with his stomach dropping stands among the individuals, near beautiful nude woman whose bodies mesh together. The skeleton within the muddles is covered in long hair, moving in the current of the water bringing everyone together.

At the bottom of the piece, a beautiful figure is illuminated, known as the mythological daughter of God and medicine, Hygeia. The woman stands with the Aesculapius snake around her arms and a cup of Lethe in her hand. The woman is covered in an array of patterns, illustrating a mosaic style that resembles the pattern of an octopus. Swirls and lines flow out of the woman's body, covered in tiny circles and shades. Hygeia's powerful face stares directly at the viewer of the painting, professing her dominance within the painting.

As Klimt maintained his loyalty to produce a work of art, his painting was met with an array of criticism and disgust by the university officials who saw his supernatural painting of nude woman symbols of death as pornographic and offensive. They felt that the depiction of humans in a vulgar form was deemed as offensive and barbaric. They believed that art was meant to heel the occurrence of death, and to not be displayed within the work.

The paintings that Gustav Klimt had painted for the university were some of his first works that explored the female form in her nature setting, soon influencing the rest of his artwork. The artwork had transformed Klimt's ideology in design, creating grander pieces that would seize the attention of millions. The detailed technique illustrated the beautiful form of humans, intertwining with a supernatural and methodical thought.

The painting would later fall into the hands of a Jewish family in 1911, yet seized in 1945 during World War Two by Nazi officials. The painting was stored in a large castle, however set on fire due to the enemy attempting to seize the property. The classic painting was destroyed, yet the photograph of the work seized the emotion of artists world wide.