“Judith and the Head of Holofernes” by Gustav Klimt
by Cecilia Martinez
Nothing is more powerful than a woman with brazen ownership of her femininity. It rests in the touch of her hand, the fall of her gaze and the gape of her lips. It is painted across her expression, sometimes quite literally through the use of makeup.
It is not a coincidence that her skin glistens in the sun’s rays every time she turns her face away from yours. She knows that she is glowing, and she knows that you are captured by it. It is not a coincidence that her lashes flutter when she looks your way. She is sending you a message, and her eyes are only amplifying the sound. The sharpness of her black liner, the softness of her rosy cheeks and the synchronicity of her color palette are almost as alluring as they are strategic.
She has created an outward expression of her femininity and has invited you to take a look.
Historically, women have been placed at the center of the makeup industry, and in a society where women often feel that they need to prove their femininity to others, it has sometimes resulted in narrowing the meaning of the word. Despite this, there is a great deal of artistry in makeup, one that has redefined its purpose and made it a way to reclaim and celebrate what it means to be feminine.
This look, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Judith I (and the head of Holofernes),” is an appropriation of his vision of the biblical Israeli widow as a classic femme fatale. She is said to have seduced and decapitated General Holofernes in order to save her home city from destruction by the Assyrian army. Culturally, she is a symbol of courage, wisdom, virtue prevailing over vice. Klimt’s painting of an overtly sensual woman passionately clutching the head of the man she has murdered, a depiction of a biblical heroine, sparked a great deal of controversy in Vienna.
The painting’s careful placement of her jewelry, the poise and outward position of her nude body, and the intensity of her soft gaze are all seemingly small stylistic choices that transformed the Judith everyone knew into a woman to be enticed by rather than one to be revered. Klimt’s depiction of Judith is one of a woman who knows her power, a woman who channeled her femininity as a weapon in order to seduce and destroy her enemy.
She was painted as an expression of her femininity and, just as they did for Holofernes, her eyes are inviting the viewer to take a look.
Makeup as an art form can be vital in helping to define the person behind the face. It opens the door not just for women, but for everyone to explore and discover what femininity means and what it can look like. It is not limited to societal expectations or standards, and much like more traditional forms of art can be a reflection of culture, a visual application of creative skill or even an expression of self.
Similarly to the clothes we wear and the words we speak, makeup helps define and display certain aspects of our identity. The medium is transformative and versatile in such a way that allows for its consumers to decide for themselves how they want to look, what kind of message they want to send, and ultimately, who they are.
In a society that constantly tries to tell women who they should be, it is important to honor the ways in which women are able to define themselves. There is no template for feminity, there is no one way to wear makeup, and it is this freedom that allows women to explore their identity and discover their power.