Medusa Peter Paul Rubens Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

The famous Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, painted the iconic masterpiece, Medusa between 1617 and 1618. The actual date is unknown. The painting depicts a brutal image of Medusa's head, that has been severed from her body.

The entire painting is taken up wither head, no other parsons can be seen. Today, the painting is housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, that is located in Vienna. A replica painting is also housed in Brno, within the prestigious Moravian Gallery.

Ovid's interpretation of Medusa centred around the fact that she was the most beautiful of Phorcys's children, and was most famed for her long flowing hair, her one true beauty.

It was following the violation of her body by Neptune in the Temple of Minerva, that her hair was cruelly transformed from its natural beauty into that of a mess of snakes. It was this transformation that also meant that anyone looking upon her, would instantly turn to stone. Therefore, Medusa became a banished and most hated woman. Medusa was indeed decapitated by Perseus, who did the deadly deed while she was sleeping. He was able to kill her as he did not look directly at her, but instead he used his shield to watch her reflection, using that to aid his crime. The iconic image of Medusa was then etched onto the shield for all of eternity.

The legend that is Medusa has been represented many times in both literature and art. In particular, during the sixteenth century, Medusa's head was often painted onto the decorative wooden shields that adorned many walls, or on similar pieces of metal work that were to be displayed. Caravaggio painted Medusa's head on the shield of Minerva, which today is housed in the Uffizi. It is believed by art critics to date back to 1600.

What we observe when we look at this painting is a dark and striking image of the severed head of Medusa. She appears to be laying on the floor, a startled expression on her face, with her eyes unseeing. From the neck can be seen a mess of red snakes and surrounding her on the floor, lie coiled snakes, that appear to have been set free due to the deputation.

The image has been painted in sombre and muted colours, with the only real light in the painting coming from Medusa's face, further highlighting her distress and turmoil. The location of where Medusa is resting is unknown, but is appears to be outside in a rustic landscape. What is most distressing about the image, apart from the horror etched on Medusa's face, is that some of the snakes are attacking each other, while others appear to be in the process of giving birth to live snakes.

It also appears that the spilt blood is turning into new snakes. The scene of death and decay is further heightened with the painting of spiders, scorpions and a lizard, all in the foreground of the painting.