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These later images may have lost the gaping mouth, sharp teeth, and beard, but they preserve the most striking quality of the Gorgon: the piercing and unflinching outward gaze.”On a chariot-pole finial from 1st-2nd century Rome, Medusa is almost angelic with her flowing hair (and a pair of snakes peeking through her tresses), yet her penetrating eyes of inlaid silver recall her petrifying gaze.
On funerary urns or armor, she was a talisman of protection, those eyes symbolically warding off evil.
For more often than not, she’s depicted just as a severed head — a visual that even has its own name, the Gorgoneion — sculpted, painted, or carved being held aloft by her slayer Perseus. Rosen, 1991) now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art draws on around 60 works from the Manhattan museum’s collections to explore the transformation of Medusa and other classical female hybrid creatures, from sphinxes to sirens to Scylla, a sailor-eating sea creature with twelve legs and six necks who makes an appearance in Homer’s .
Bronze greave (shin guard) for the left leg with Medusa head (Greek, 4th century BCE), bronze, width: 4 7/8 inches; length: 15 3/4inches (courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. On a 570 BCE terracotta stand, Medusa is comically hideous, and fully bearded, sticking out her tongue between two tusks.
The Classical period of Greek art — from 480 to 323 BCE — further associated beauty with danger when Medusa, the sirens, sphinxes, and Scylla all got a little hotter, losing some scales and wings as their bodies were more and more humanized.
Terracotta pelike (jar) with Perseus beheading the sleeping Medusa, attributed to Polygnotos (Greek, 450–440 BCE), terracotta, height: 18 13/16 inches, diameter: 13 1/2 inches (courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1945)Madeleine Glennon in a 2017 essay on “Medusa in Ancient Greek Art” for the Met notes that “Classical and Hellenistic images of Medusa are more human, but she retains a sense of the unknown through specific supernatural details such as wings and snakes.
In it, a nude Perseus proudly presents the dead Gorgon’s head in one hand, grasping some of the hair that writhes with a few subtle serpents.
Her expression is one of surprised, but unblinking, sorrow.
In Greek mythology, she is one of the Gorgon sisters (derived from the Greek for “dreadful”), and Perseus uses a reflective bronze shield to defeat her.
He then employs her head and its stony glare as a weapon, a tool he subsequently gives to the goddess Athena who wore it on her armor.