About Me

May 11, 2014

Klimt's Three Ages at Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.

Mothers have always been a popular subject in Art,  depicted as goddesses, tender Madonnas,  timeless mythological figures.
There is one work in particular that comes immediately to my mind when I think of motherhood. An icon. It's by Klimt, probably the greatest Austrian painter who ever lived and one of the most expensive of all time, after death.
It is surprisingly in Rome.
Shown for the first time at the Biennale in Venice in 1910, it won the gold medal in 1911 at the International Exhibition in Rome for the 50th Anniversary of Italian Unity. It was purchased by Rome's National Gallery of Modern Art in 1912.
A tender portrait of a loving mother posing as a Madonna. In fact it's often referred to as Mother and Child.  

The Three Ages of Woman (1905) - Gustav Klimt.
Galleria d'Arte Moderna - Rome.

But a mysterious third woman appears in the background: old, naked, an unforgiving depiction of decay.  A disturbing vision. So disturbing that in the numberless reproductions, posters and postcards, it's often simply 'cut out'.
The old woman might have been inspired, according to some scholars, by Rodin's  Old Courtesan, in Vienna for the Secession Exhibition in 1901.  
Three women at different stages in life: an allusion to the never-ending cycle of life and death. 
Klimt had lost his son Otto in 1902 and besides an apparent tribute to motherhood there is a clear obsession with time ad death.  Nevertheless it evokes also youth, fertility and love.
The vibrant colors of his palette convey a less bitter and tragic interpretation of the theme.  But the decorative elements in the background, similar to the byzantine mosaics he loved, are something else:  those mysterious shapes have been interpreted as bacteria and protozoa, symbols of decay and decomposition. He was fascinated by microbiology.
Death and sexuality were regarded as inconceivable elements of chaos by his society. Nevertheless Eros and Thanatos were the source of  Klimt's inspiration. 
The ageing process, especially concerning women, was a popular subject already in the Renaissance depicted by artists such as Giorgione. It became a common theme also in Klimt's Symbolist era.
His works have even been criticized for being pornographic.  He was fascinated and obsessed by female bodies. And by women's clothing.  Some of the outfits he created for his creatures are truly spectacular. Not surprising they inspired designer John Galliano for one of his collections.
Not much is known about his private life but he was apparently the father of at least 14 illegitimate children with his various lovers.
He once wrote: "I have never painted a self-portrait. I am more interested in other people, especially women.'