DANAË (1907) – the fantastic representation of the myth by Gustave Klimt


Gustave Klimt | Danaë

Gustave Klimt did this oil painting in 1907, depicting the myth of Danaë, the mother of Perseus.

In this post get to know this myth and how Gustave Klimt represents it superbly. 

Includes the video Women and mythology in art history.

Text: Rute Ferreira, author of online courses about art analysis and art communication.

danae Gustave Klimt

Source of imagewikiart

The myth of Danaë

The supreme lord of Olympus, Zeus, was acknowledged for frequent infidelities to his wife, Hera.

Often he disguised himself to perform the attempt to sleep with some beautiful young woman who would catch his eye.

In the case of Danaë, however, it was not the jealousy of the goddess that made him metamorphose into a rain of gold, but the father of the young woman, Acrisius.

When he consulted the oracle, he knew that he would be killed by his grandson, so he took care of locking the princess in a tower, constantly watched.

Without being able to possess her by normal means, Zeus then becomes a shower of gold.

Than he fecundates the girl through a hole in the ceiling of the tower (some interpret this reading saying that, in fact, Zeus bribed the guards, hence ” rain of gold “).

From this union is born Perseus, the same hero who kills Medusa and later saves Andromeda.

Danaë by Gustave Klimt

Gustave Klimt, who was an Austrian symbolist painter, portrayed the moment when Danaë is taken by the Lord of Olympus.

She is lying by side, with her breast exposed and her legs raised, as the rain comes.

In the Klimtian representation, the princess is not accompanied by other elements or beings – as in the work of Correggio – but is alone, revealing a moment of total intimacy.

Danae, Correggio, circa 1531 Galleria Borghese in Rome

Danae, Correggio, circa 1531 Galleria Borghese in Rome


Her red hair spreads over her shoulders and back, and her face with a slight blush shows the sexual act and the excitement.

Danae Gustave Klimt -detail

Beside her, one can see a fine silk fabric, which may be a reminder of the girl’s lineage.

The two-dimensional quality of the figure is one of the most relevant marks of Gustave Klimt.

His choice to focus on the sexual act without the presence of someone other than Danaë herself makes clear the choice of the erotic myth.

Mythology in art

Classical mythology is a recurring theme in Art History.

From time to time we are facing works that reconstitute facts of the Greco-Roman culture and imagination.

Some of humanity’s greatest and most important works of art have in classical mythology their central subject.

Danae by Artemisia Gentileschi

Danae by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1612


Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secession

Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 in Vienna, Austria, and began his studies in art as a teenager, at the age of 14, together with his brother Ernst.

Soon they began to receive commissions for the decoration of public spaces.

Deeply interested in new ways of expressing himself through painting and in avant-garde art, Klimt founded the Vienna Secession in 1897.

Poster for the 14th Secession Exhibit (1902), by Alfred Roller

Poster for the 14th Secession Exhibit (1902), by Alfred Roller


The idea was that the commission would choose and promote avant-garde art.

Needless to say, Klimt’s new style and bold design caused horror among the funding authorities.

Despite this, the artist continued to be in great demand. Gustav Klimt was well known during his lifetime.

Gustave Klimt died of pneumonia in 1918.

Women and mythology in art history

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