Perseus with the Head of Medusa


Canova, Antonio. Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Marble. 1804-1806. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:

In this portrayal of the Medusa myth, Perseus holds the decapitated head of Medusa up triumphantly, basking in his victory against her. He grabs her head by a tangle of the snakes serving as her hair, and her face is frozen in an expression of agony — eyebrows lowered at the center with her mouth slightly agape, giving her an almost sad expression. One can truly see her pain. Compared to older portrayals of Medusa, this one does not look particularly monstrous. While the 1800’s were not necessarily a kind time period for women and the emphasis of the artwork is certainly on Perseus’ triumph, Medusa’s pain is recognized and portrayed very obviously by the artist. Perseus is the ideal male figure here, and Medusa is defeated, sad, docile. She was too powerful and Perseus, a symbol of manhood, put her back in her place. The sculpture as a whole might be representative of views of women in the 19th century; a powerful woman like Medusa would have needed to have been tamed by a man — to have her power taken away and to be put in her rightful place where she was quiet and inferior to man just like the decapitated Medusa.

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