Europe 1800 - 1900
Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze
Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, Vienna Secession, 1902 A conversation with Khan Academy's Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris
In the News: The heirs of the Austrian Jewish collector who owned this work before World War II recently lost their case to recover it. Learn more: March 7, 2015 New York Times article. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
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- Could this frieze be the first comic book?(14 votes)
- This frieze was painted in 1902. While the comic book first appeared in the US in 1933, people have used sequences of pictures to depict a story throughout history. A famous example is the Bayeux Tapestry from about 1070. It depicts the Norman Conquest of England. Watch the video on Trajan's Column in the Ancient Cultures section of art history. It was made in 113 AD and is very similar to a comic book.(23 votes)
- How do you know what the figures represent? Did Klimt leave a guide or is it possible to tell just by looking at them?(17 votes)
- Being wholly unqualified to answer this question, I'd imagine that it's a matter of consensus in the academic art world: this is what the majority currently think and we're pretty sure it's what he intended, but it might be that sometime in the future someone finds out a more accurate interpretation. However, you should always remember that art can be read in multiple ways and the artist's intention might not even matter depending on your theoretical point of reference.(2 votes)
- What was the Vienna Secession and what was Klimt's relation to it?(10 votes)
- Good question! It sounds like they wanted Vienna to secede from Austria, right? Turns out it was a group of artists that were resigning from the Association of Austrian Artists because they thought it was too conservative and too caught up in historical styles. They wanted to create a style that owed nothing to historical influences. You can see Klimt's art is very radical even today! It seems to me the Vienna Secession shares a lot of similar influences with Art Nouveau in France, the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, the Jugendstil in Germany, and the Prairie School in the United States.(13 votes)
- Why was the frieze positioned so far above the ground and eye level?(7 votes)
- I guess to interpret the artwork as the holy truth, a story of the Gods, since we're looking at something above.(1 vote)
- The wikipedia entry for this frieze, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beethoven_Frieze, says that Typhoeus was the father of the Gorgons. Who/what was their mother? Please cite your information.(4 votes)
- Typhon is known as the "father of all monsters," so it would be easy to artistically connect him to the Gorgons. However, Typhon's wikipedia page does not list him as a parent of the Gorgons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhon Also the Wikipedia entry for Medusa, the most famous of the Gorgons, lists the Gorgon's parents as Phorcys and Ceto. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medusa According to Phorcys and Ceto's articles, Hesiod's Theogony lists Phorcys and Ceto as the parents. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorcys http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceto Hesiod's Theogony also was the first to list three Gorgons rather than just refer to a singular monster called the Gorgon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgon There are often different versions of Greek myths because they are handed down over hundreds of years.(5 votes)
- Wonderful video. One thing struck me as odd though, at the3:00mark there is a correlation drawn between the image of the knight in the frieze and how German and Austrian political leaders would distort this into a heroic mythic figure that would be their savior, and explicitly naming Hitler. This might give the impression that the Vienna Secession was in some way even remotely attached to totalitarian politics which couldn't be further from the truth! Many of Klimt's patrons and subjects were Austrian Jews including Adele Bloch-Bauer http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Gustav_Klimt_046.jpg
Also when the Nazi's came to power they rejected Klimt's work going as far as to burn at least three of his paintings: Medicine, Jurisprudence & Philosophy.
The Vienna Secession was an all-encompassing art movement that spread from Vienna to around the world and has been referred to as the Birth of Urban Modernism.[Schorske, Carl (1981). "The Ringstrasse and the Birth of Urban Modernism". Fin-De-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Vintage Books.]
Would it be possible in time to produce an entire section to the Vienna Secession in the way that there is a section devoted to the British Pre-Raphaelites? Again thanks for the wonderful video, I've never had the chance to visit Vienna so it was great to see actual video of the Beethoven Frieze.(3 votes)
- You need to watch and listen a bit more carefully. They said that the people of Germany and Austria were looking for the embodiment of this knightly figure, but wound up getting sucked into the lies of corrupt political leaders (Hitler being one of them).(4 votes)
- 2:15The "genai" are mentioned? I am confused.(4 votes)
- Think of them as "motivating spirits", and find the "genie in the lamp" as an example of another use of the word.
Alternatively, think of "genus" (the singular form of genii) or "gene" or "gender" as coming fro the same root word.(1 vote)
- The video was intriguing, but does the artwork somehow reference Beethoven himself? <as it is called the "Beethoven Freize">(1 vote)
- The painting was part of an exhibition celebrating Beethoven.(3 votes)
- This frieze is so exquisite and beautiful..I love Gustav Klimt's work, his mind, spirit and soul...are you sure the gorilla represents evil?..In fact the gorillas face looks sad andf ull of longing...before this video I thought the gorilla represented Mother Earth...(1 vote)
(Beethoven's 9th Symphony) Steven: Our necks are getting a little tired looking up but it's well worth it. We're in the Vienna Secession building and we're looking at Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze. Beth: The secession artists decided to do something really radical and design something entirely around a sculpture by Max Klinger of Beethoven and their idea was to make a total work of art involving architecture, sculpture, painting and music. And the idea behind the Gesamtkunstwerk, or a total work of art, is to unite the arts and the idea was that that unification of the arts was something that had been lost. Steven: The notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk had come from Richard Wagner who had conceived of operas that were, of course, music, speech, but also set design and costume. Something that was a totality of the arts and it was this notion of a kind of lost ideal. Beth: At the opening of this exhibition, Mahler's version of Beethoven's 9th Symphony was playing and one can almost hear that music here. Beethoven was seen as an isolated, heroic, misunderstood genius. Someone who the artists of the 19th century could really identify with. Just before painting the Beethoven Frieze, Klimt himself had been terribly persecuted for the frescos he made for the university. Steven: And so that idea of alienation, of lone genius, these are romantic notions that really must have resonated at this moment. Beth: Beethoven Frieze now resides in the basement of the Secession building in a room that exactly mirrors the room that it first occupied. Steven: The Frieze begins on the long wall with a very spare composition. Most of that long wall is empty space, just plaster. But at the top you see a series of figures in long flowing gowns that seem to float or almost fly softly across the surface. Beth: Their eyes are closed. Their bodies are elongated and these are genii, or figures that represent the idea of humanity's longing. Steven: The genii are interrupted in one area of the Frieze which shows first a young girl, a nude and we see her in profile. She's virtually just an outline. Her hands are clasped, she seems quite timid and seems to be embodying hope. Beth: Next to her are two figures on their knees who also are nude. These figures represent suffering humanity, pleading with a knight who's decked out in golden armor with two female figures above him, representing ambition and compassion. Steven: You can see that ambition holds a laurel wreath as if it's egging the knight on. Beth: The figure of the knight has a helmet at its feet and carries an enormous sword. Steven: There is this notion of seeking a kind of heroic mythic figure that could be a kind of savior. Austria and Germany of course will distort these ideas in terrible ways where people are looking to insane fanatical figures as their savior. Think Hitler and others. Beth: And in fact some of those types of leaders were emerging in Vienna in the 1890's. So let's go on to the next wall which represents the forces that the knight is here to save humanity from. Steven: These are the forces of darkness. That end wall is painted very darkly and visually functions as an obstacle through which the knight needs to move. He needs to both be able to vanquish and also to be able to resist the temptations. Beth: On the far left of this end wall we see the three gorgons. Steven: Those are mythical Greek monsters. They were three sisters who had snakes for hair, the most famous of which of course is Medusa. They were lethal but they're also painted in a most seductive way. Beth: And above those three gorgons are the figures of sickness, madness and death, also represented by women. The figure that takes up the largest portion of the wall, however, is the figure of just pure evil and that's the mythic creature of Typhoeus. Steven: When you look at Typhoeus you can certainly recognize his ape like head and chest but the entire mass of decorative painting to the right is also Typhoeus. You can make out an enormous bluish eagle wing and below that a kind of infinitely articulated almost serpent-like body. Beth: And within that serpent and wing we see another female figure who represents gnawing grief. Steven: Whereas so many of the other figures are rendered in brilliant golds or blues, she is all grey and black. Draped not only with her own hair but in a thin veil. Beth: The figures just to the right of Typhoeus represent lasciviousness, wantonness and intemperance. Steven: The genii do emerge and the last wall is light again. Beth: This wall represents a kind of salvation for mankind in the arts and so we see a figure playing a lyre representing poetry and music. Steven: She's just beautifully draped in brilliant gold. There's a heavily ornamented surface that you can see the appliqué's on her dress are actually built up with gems that reflect the light. Beth: It's almost like an ancient Greek vase painting in its linear and decorative qualities. In this last portion of the Frieze, the genii now emerge vertically. There's a sense of fulfillment, that longing has been satisfied. Steven: They look like they're enraptured and they seem to be moving almost in a kind of rhythmic response to music. At the end of the 9th Symphony, Beethoven incorporates a poem called the Ode to Joy by Schiller which is this triumphant piece of music where an enormous number of voices harmoniously rise to the music and express a kind of intense fulfillment. Beth: One of the lines in Schiller's Ode to Joy is "a kiss to the whole world" and in this phallic shape at the very end we see a man and a woman in an embrace, wrapped in a golden decorative cocoon with the sun and moon on either side. Steven: In fact water seems to swirl around them, binding them together and their bodies are so close they seem to almost merge. Neither of their heads are visible so they are, their love, it is this summation of the yearning that this entire Frieze has been about and it seems to be such a perfect visual expression of the way in which Beethoven's music comes to a kind of extraordinary crescendo. (Beethoven's 9th Symphony)