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Gustav Klimt's Faculty paintings in the intellectual context of fin-de-siècle Vienna

by Wolfman, LeeAna Beth


In 1894, the Austrian Ministry of Culture and Education invited Gustav Klimt to participate in the creation of a set of monumental paintings for the ceiling of the Graduation Hall at the University of Vienna. The Ministry commissioned the artist to paint allegorized versions of three of the four faculties of the University: Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence. The commission specified that the works were to depict the “Triumph of Light over Darkness,” indicating the power of man over nature, the triumph of the human will over irrational urges. Each of Klimt’s paintings, however, seemed to represent the opposite of what the University intended, challenging the traditional liberal values of the Enlightenment and reflecting the evolving ideas of the avant-garde intellectual milieu. The philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche pervaded progressive thought in turn-of-the-century Vienna, informing Klimt’s paintings in the same way they influenced Sigmund Freud’s psychological ideas. Many scholars have since wondered why Klimt’s art underwent such an abrupt shift from a conventional academic approach towards an evocative and imprecise style and Symbolist subject matter. My thesis explores the ways in which Schopenhauerian, Nietzschean, and Freudian philosophies can elucidate Klimt’s subversion of the University’s commission.


Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Includes bibliographical references.

Administrative Notes

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Copyright restrictions apply.
Colorado College
Digital Origin
born digital
79 pages : illustrations (chiefly color)
Senior Thesis -- Colorado College
Thesis Advisor
Murray, Gale
Degree Name
Degree Type
Bachelor of Arts
Degree Grantor
Colorado College
Date Issued