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「克林姆:〈吻〉」- Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-8


We're in the Belvedere in Vienna, and we're looking at Gustav Klimt's The Kiss from 1908, probably the most famous Klimt. And I actually have to admit that I have forgotten that the painting was almost a perfect square because I've seen it in so many posters where it's been cut down and made into a rectangle.

It's a very large painting, and there's so much gold that it's hard not to think of a religious icon.
And I think in some ways, Klimt was trying to create a modern icon—something that suggested a sense of transcendence.

Well, there's no question that the gold here makes you think of the Byzantine tradition—maybe some of the tile work at Ravenna. There is a way that patterning, especially around the faces, becomes a kind of a halo as well.

You have Klimt building up the gold. He's got those gold circles that actually rise off the surfaces of the canvas, and catch the light much the way that the gold was tooled in medieval paintings.

There is this sense of the male figure, of patterns that are direct linear in contrast to the curvilinear, to the circles and the ovals that we see in the female form.

But the point that you made about the sense of the spiritual is so powerful in this painting. I think we forget that that darker gold ground seems so much as if the figures are somehow being dissipated into the cosmos that they are so lost in the intensity, the eternity of that kiss.

And all removed from the everyday world. I mean, we have to remember that this is a time of incredible modernization in Vienna. The City of Vienna has been transformed in the previous 30 years into a modern city.

Here, Klimt is abstracting a universal experience from the trauma, the difficulties, the anxieties of everyday life. I think it's also important to see this in relationship to Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, where the figures confront evil forces, these mythic figures. And in the end, there's this embrace, this kiss, this emergence from evil into fulfillment and perfection.

A minute ago, we were looking at the painting by Egon Schiele called The Embrace. But there, there was so much more of a sense of the physicality of the bodies.

The way that the bodies really aren't present here and are cloaked in these decorative forms reminds us how much Klimt, although he was exploring this kind of sensuality, was also disguising and covering it with a kind of decorative patterning.

And that's absolutely right, with the exception of the faces. And here, this is where the entire painting changes. The female figure is completely full-frontal but horizontal, so that there's this beautiful sense of her passivity, receiving that kiss, but also kind of deep interior feeling with her eyes closed.

Her fingers just delicately touching his as he holds her head. And his neck reaches out and around. And you get the sense of his physical power through the strength of that neck, but also the intensity of his desire.

And, of course, they're both crowned. On his head you can see a wreath of leaves. On hers—almost as if they were the stars of the heavens.

Schiele gives us an image of a couple that's electrified by kinds of agitated outlines.

Schiele is showing us a kind of truth through the energy of the moment, whereas Klimt seems to be reaching out to a truth that is for all time. That is so aestheticized it feels as if it has a degree of absolute permanence.




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