Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi. Medusa. 1598. Florence, Italy.
This portrayal of Medusa from the 16th century C.E. shows only the decapitated head of Medusa pouring blood with a look of terror and astonishment on her face. This portrayal of Medusa does not envision her as a hideous creature as she was portrayed in archaic times, but it also does not present her as a beautiful maiden as she was during classical times. This interpretation begins to capture her pain. She is not ugly, but she still has her hair of snakes, and the expression on her face is one of shock and fright. Unlike other more “modern” works that show Perseus heroically defeating Medusa, the artist here chooses to focus only on Medusa, and specifically on capturing her emotion at the moment before she dies, just as she realizes what is happening to her. Views towards Medusa during the 16th century were not sympathetic, and the Medusa portrayed here was still seen as a fearsome symbol, but the interpretation of her is moving towards one where her suffering is recognized and sympathy for her can begin to be felt. She was raped by Poseidon, had both her virginity and beauty stolen, and was bestowed with the power to petrify to stone anyone who looked at her. In this painting, her pain is recognized.