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Gustav Klimt (Vienna, 1862-1918) was a symbolist painter and the leader of the avant-garde Vienna Secession movement, which actively rebelled against the moralistic Victorian ethos of the day.
One of the earliest pieces in what became known as his Golden Phase, Judith and the Head of Holofernes, includes motifs adorned with gold leaf and a custom frame created by his brother. Scandalous in its day, Judith is portrayed as a femme fatale looking down at the viewer in triumph as her fingers entwine with the hair of Holofernes’s severed head.
Klimt’s fascination with adding gold leaf to painting had only begun with this work. A visit to Italy in 1903 to view the Byzantine mosaics at the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna was inspirational to the artist. All the glittering gold and silver surfaces, flat pattern, and abstract human forms informed his most famous paintings to come, including The Kiss.