Photoshop and Klimt, or retouching older women and breasts out of history

Klimt’s iconic painting ‘Three ages of woman’ beautifully empresses both the beauty and horror of motherhood, which is why it serves a project vignette. It was painted in 1905 and bought by the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome in 1911. The Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali kindly permitted us to use it.


It is a widely known and frequently reproduced image. However, not all parts of it appeal: many reproductions crop the image to show only the mother holding the child. My lovely colleague Doris gave me a porcelain mug for my birthday with this image on it. The central motif features at the front, back and inside. The representation of old age, however, has been entirely deleted. Instead, the orange dot-and-circle pattern has been expanded to cover the space.

The latest alteration of the image I came across covers the naked breast of the woman with a second child. Klimt’s woman suddenly turned into a mother of twins.

Klimt with twinsThe arts shall be free, I suppose, but I am sure poor Gustav would spin in his grave if he knew. The original message of the painting is entirely lost, and the ‘new and improved’ versions are symptomatic for a broader tendency to retouch older women out of media, politics and research.

I have sadly not found the origin of the ‘mother of twins’ image, but I suspect it is a prudish attempt to cover the woman’s naked breast. After reading this rant, have some fun: you can turn your own image ‘klimtesque’ on the Deepart website.


About Katharina

Katharina is a prehistoric archaeologist working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her main research interests include the archaeology of the human body, gender, identity and personhood as expressed through funerary practices and art. She specialises in the Bronze and Iron Ages of Europe. As a mother of two young boys, she gathered some practical experience in addition to her theoretical interest in motherhood.
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