Gustav Klimt’s painting, Hygeia, was created in 1907 as a commissioned work for the University of Vienna’s “Great Hall”. It depicts the Greek goddess of hygiene, health, cleanliness, and sanitation along with a snake and the cup of Lethe. Above her is a column of light with nude figures and a skeleton representing death. The painting reveals Klimt’s fascination with death as an integral part of life.
Hygieia is one of three paintings known as “The Faculty Paintings,” which were intended to symbolize Medicine, Philosophy, and Jurisprudence. Critics found the aimless trance of the men and women drifting in the background disturbing. Despite this criticism, it remains one of his most famous works.
This masterpiece conveys Klimt’s interest in themes such as sexuality and death through his unique style characterized by gold leaf applications, flowing lines, decorations inspired by Byzantine art combined with Art Nouveau influences. The Kiss is another popular painting during this period that also demonstrates Gustav Klimt’s mastery over sensual depictions.