Greek mythology is Ancient Greece. It uncovers its thought and ways of life, a set of narratives of a people. Indeed, these fables were part of the emotional preparation of their warriors as children. They are violent and cruel to a world of pure struggle for survival. Your heroes relate to the gods directly in a universe of stories where reality and the fantastic mix without ceremony. In art and culture, this way of being fascinated by the Romans and a good part of Western civilization. A civilization of Greco-Roman tones.
Among its mythological figures, the chthonic monster Medusa, one of the 3 Gorgon sisters, became very popular. She gathered admirers for her powers that could decimate enemies: anyone who looked at her directly in their eyes would petrify. Powerful and cursed, it enchanted painters, poets, sculptors, and even Sigmund Freud, who in 1940 launched the book “The Head of Medusa,” presenting it to the world of symbolic meanings within the scope of modern psychology.
Popularly, Medusa would have been a woman of stunning beauty, one of the priestesses of the Temple of Athens. She often boasted of being more beautiful than the goddess herself in a reckless, reckless attitude. One day she accepted Poseidon’s advances, the god of the seas, son of the time lord Cronos and the titan Reia. Returning to the Temple pretending that nothing had happened, she was surprised by the maddened Athena, that turned her hair into snakes and brutally disfigured her face, making her a disgusting figure. As if that wasn’t enough, Medusa was also cursed, so everyone who looked at her would turn to stone.
Perseus, the founding demigod of Mycenae’s state city, the young and ambitious son of Zeus with a mortal, accepted the challenge of finding her and beheading her. Using the artifice of a well-polished shield, he distracted her and beheaded her while she was horrified by her reflection. With her head in hands, Perseus placed her in front of his shield, becoming an unbeatable warrior. The Dantesque scene of the gorgon, horrified by her own image, bleeding, was updated in the hands of the Milanese painter Caravaggio. It waited for 2 millennia to become almost real.
A genius of the Baroque, Caravaggio was born in the Duchy of Milan in 1571. His father was an architect, administrator, and decorator of the Marquis de Caravaggio. The plague took almost all of his family, making Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio a bitter and violent person. According to reports at the time, original in art and in life, he would work for 15 days and then spend up to two months wandering with his sword, looking for fights and insane discussions at bars and brothels. Once, he killed a young man brutally during a fight, creating such a revolt that he was forced to flee. Rome would be the final destination for the escape. Always expelled for bad behavior, he suffered attacks and beatings until he mysteriously disappeared at the age of 38. He left a brilliant career of only 10 years with 60 known paintings. Buried as destitute, his tomb took years to be discovered. Our talent was a conscious and premeditated killer who had met a predictable end.
Inventive, he took the image of Rome’s people as his models: prostitutes, sailors, workers in general, people with whom he lived in his “criminal life.” Thus Narcissus, Bacchus, Judite and Holofernes, The Supper at Emmaus, The Cheaters, David with the head of Goliath, Flagellation of Christ, Boy with Basket of Fruits, among other works, are records of real human footprints. Faces that would be erased from history but that were perpetuated through the eye of the painter.
Straightforward, he made dark backgrounds and dense catapults for his brutal images, using contrasts of shapes and lights that impact the observer. Nobody is indifferent to Caravaggio. No one. He has something for all of us — a usual amount of darkness and light around the human condition.
From this torment, Medusa is born, his most passionate and dark work, rude in everything as its creator. As if that were not enough, the improbable manifests itself again in the young master’s life with something unique: two legitimate Medusa paintings. Both speak loud and clear about a different artist. The first was painted in 1596, and the other, more famous, was painted a little later in 1597. One was the theme of the poet Gaspare Murtola and therefore identified with Murtola. The other is held by a private collector. The poet wrote:
“Runaway, because if your eyes are petrified in fascination, she will turn you into stone.”
The other is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and would have been commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, Caravaggio’s admirer and protector, who presented it to Fernando I de Médici for his weapons room, a parade shield, magic. Showed to the public in 1598, it made a significant impact, becoming again sung in prose and verse. In it, we have the synthesis of the absolute feeling of astonishment.
This renewed Caravaggio’s Medusa is oil on canvas mounted on wood, the background is dark, and in the artist’s style, the model is Mario Minniti, a friend. The gorgon had just been beheaded and bleeds copiously. Her blood is magical, poison on the left, a resuscitation potion on the right. The blood flow is contained in the circular frame, on a perpetual cycle, exposing itself dramatically in opposite colors — life (red), death (dark green) — light and deep shadow.
Thus Caravaggio throws the monster towards his observer with a real, 3D object. The shield is now on the stage of the conflict. It is a lethal weapon. Their snakes show no pain or anger. They simply inhabit the monster’s head and represent the sudden death of beauty, the imponderable, the naked, and raw punishment.
Caravaggio photographs the action, the instant of supreme pain and commotion, and the gorgon’s eyes pop out of their sockets framed by a furrowed forehead, a twisted face. Disorder, destiny … The beautiful woman is observed in masculine features, worn teeth, and explodes in a silent scream. Her anguish reflects the aberration of his appearance. Now she will be a prisoner, a slave to Perseus in his conquests forever. A shield, a standard for the hands of the wise Fernando I centuries and centuries ahead. Perhaps this amulet — Medusa — helped him be wise in his choices and protect himself from evil, as this was a Médici of great deeds. On the other hand, its creator — Caravaggio — undoubtedly earned his livelihood, his coins, on two occasions with what would have been an expression of beauty and recklessness one day. He fed a legend, read his destiny. After all, there is always power in images. Yesterday and today, everyone seeks to enchant their observer, paralyze him, be a myth and cold, perennial stone, perhaps a blessing or a curse. Is it the revealing art of the soul? A Mirror?