MEDUSA (1597)

Artist name? Caravaggio

Nationality? Italian

Type of work: Oil on canvas

Where can I see this work? Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Have you seen this horrible face with snakes on its head before?

If you don’t know much about who this character can be, then here I am going to tell you the story of the famous Medusa. But first, I want you to observe the figure and where this painting has been madewasou seeing is a canvas glued on a table in the form of a tondo. The tondo is when a work is performed as a disk. It comes from the Italian term Rotondo or “round”. Very fashionable at the time of the Renaissance and widely used by Italian painters.

What is this Medusa legend about?

Medusa is a mythological beast. In this painting we see the f, ace of a woman who was recently beheaded and who has several. When then painted, this figure was used as a shield in tournaments. For Caravaggio it had another, er meaning, and he gave this work to one of his clients to be used as a decorative accessory.

In Greek mythology she was a fe, male monster who turned anyone who looked into her eyes to stone. Sheintoas was beheaded by Perseus, who then used her head as her weapon until she gave it to her mother, the Goddess Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) to put on he,r shield.

Since classical Greek antiquity, the image of Medusa’s head has been represented as the ruse that wards off evil known as the Gorgoneion (amulet).

First you must know w who the gorgons are.

Gorgons come from themed “gorgos”, which means horrible or frightening. Three gorgon sisters lived in underground caves far below Mount Olympus. They were Medusa, Esteno and Euríale, and they were,e known as the daughters of the marine divinities Phorcis and Ceto. Medusa is typically distinguished from the other Gorgons because she is the only mortal.

The heads of these monsters were surrounded by serpents, with large boar tusks, hands of bronze and wings of gold. Sparks were thrown from their eyes that were capable could petrifyooked at them directly. The existence of the Gorgons arose from the belief that the sisters were personifications of hidden reefs on which a host of unsuspecting and unwitting sailors had been shipwrecked over the centuries.

What were Athena’s punishments?

The God of the seas, Poseidon, having snatched Medusa’s virginity, could no longer serve Athena. When she learned about this blasphemy, instead of confronting Poseidon, she decided to punish her. Both gods, Athena and Poseidon, were already rivals since they competed for the patronage of Athens and the inhabitants of the city preferred Athena’s olive tree to Poseidon’s fountain or horses.

She first turned into a monster like her sisters, banishing her from living in the hyperborean lands. Some versions say that it was the Goddess Aphrodite who turned her beautiful hair into snakes out of jealousy. Not satisfied with all this punishment, Athena finds out that Medusa is pregnant with Poseidon, and that is how she sends her son Perseus to kill her.

How did Perseus manage to kill Medusa?

The young hero had a challenging mission to fulfil because, let’s not forget, with a simple glance Medusa was capable of killing anyone who got in her way. Perseus managed to cut off her head by rising into the air thanks to Hermes’s winged sandals and her invisibility helmet. Such a cap or helmet was called the helmet of Hades, the lord of the dead. It is a kind of skin hood that was put on the head of the deceased. When it covers their heads, the dead are faceless. They are invisible. This is how using this helmet allowed him to become invisible to any supernatural entity. The sandals were also used to escape from his gorgon sisters after he had killed Medusa.

Athena gave her a very bright shield to use so that she would not see her and could repel the lethal light attack from her eyes. Perseus flying with his sandals managed to place himself above Medusa cutting off her head in a single act.

Henceforth, Athena had Gorgon’s head on her shield and became invincible. Even though she was dead, her eyes still petrified people, so the Goddess decided to use her as a powerful shield.

Who were the children of Medusa?

From Medusa’s decapitated neck came her two children (the ones he was gestating), and they were none other than the winged horse Pegasus and Chrysaor, the giant. Perseus kept the blood, to which magical qualities were attributed: the one that flowed from the left side was a deadly poison, and the one from the right side cured and revived whoever drank it.

On the other hand, his hair put the largest army to flight.

What does Medusa mean to mythologists?

For mythologists, she symbolized the evil character of the woman the Greeks gave her and represented the demon-woman, the mother who provides death, and the dark side of femininity.

What did this Medusa head story become?

Due to Athena’s use of Medusa’s head, in the end, it became a protective amulet among the Greek civilization.

Why is Medusa so important in Greek Mythology and our culture?

The myth of the Medusa is the story that has left the most traces in our civilization because her fateful and unfair story draws our attention. Due to a sexual relationship (consensual or not, it is not known for sure), she cursed all her life until she was decapitated. Here we can see the fury of the gods that no one can fight before them.

Her iconography has come down to us today, presenting her as the lady of the beasts, the mediator between heaven and hell, the one who reflects the cycle of life (life, death and rebirth) and, above all, the representative of the feminine mysteries.

We were returning to our Caravaggio work. Who commissioned this work from the artist?

Cardinal del Monte requested this work, and that is how the painter of the world of darkness put the Greek monster inside a shield with an unprecedented gesture of fury and pain. An earlier creation perhaps influenced by Caravaggio by Leonardo da Vinci who also decorated a wooden shield with this Greek myth. However, the new painter aims to humanize the mythological figure and give it an intense realism and feeling. Years later, painters like Rubens and sculptors like Bernini also provided their point of view on this myth, creating different works of art that are preserved today.

What is the influence of this work in the nineteenth century?

Symbolist artists such as Klint gave a reinterpretation of the classic from a more decadent and avant-garde perspective. In this century, the role of women gained more strength, and, for this reason, we can see pieces that reflect a Medusa conceived as a “femme fatale”.

Medusa symbolizes the fusion between the fascination for love and the stalking of death at a time when women began to give ominous signs of their desire for emancipation from male guardianship.

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