Here are some more paintings from the second wave Pre-Raphaelite, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. The painting below is taken from the story of Psyche. She had unintentionally aroused the ire of Aphrodite when men, aroused by her beauty, had turned from worshiping the goddess in favor of her. Later on in her story, she becomes Aphrodite’s servant and is sent on a series of impossible tasks, one of which is to venture into Hades. She is one of the relatively few characters in Greek mythology to make it back alive from the place of the dead. Charon was the pilot who ushered the dead across the river Styx and into Hades.
This next painting is a personification, another example of allegorical art.
Here is Venus, another mythological subject…
… and, from Greek mythology, a depiction of Andromeda, the maiden who was rescued by the demigod Perseus from the sea serpent Cetus when she was chained to a rock.
I will end my discussion of this artist with his portrayal (on two panels) of an event from the New Testament: that of the angel appearing to Mary.
Also called the Hellhound and a Warg, the Freybug is something of a demonic canine from medieval English folklore. Perhaps the most famous Hellhound is Cerberus from Greek mythology. This is the three-headed dog who stands as the keeper to the gates of Hell. Milton even included him in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, which I recommend reading if you have the patience.
The twelfth labor of Heracles was to bring back Cerberus. Here are two selections which portray this.
On a more personal note, my oldest daughter owns a rescue dog whom she named Cerberus (Cerbie for short). Despite her large size and ominous name, she’s actually an amiable pooch.
As a final offering for your viewing pleasure, here is the rendering of a Freybug by William O’ Connor from his Dracopedia: The Bestiary.
The Perseus Series by Edward Burne-Jones (continued):
Once equipped, Perseus sets out to find Medusa. He must use the polished shield given him by Athena in order to view Medusa safely since her reflection cannot turn him to stone. In The Finding of Medusa (shown above), he appears to be holding a mirror in his left hand. The sack for carrying her head is draped over his left forearm. Medusa (standing) is shown with her two Gorgon sisters, who are immortal and cannot be killed.
Once he has beheaded Medusa, Perseus must escape the remaining two Gorgons. He is aided in the effort by the helm of darkness given him by Hades. It seems that the artist chose not to depict the hair of Medusa or her sisters as snakes in these paintings. As such, he presents ugliness as more beautiful. This nuance, however, does not eliminate the sinister aspect of the three Gorgons. Whether the artist intended it or not, I personally see an additional element of implied tragedy. After all, Perseus is essentially killing Medusa and bereaving her sisters on a dare.
The Perseus Series by Edward Burne-Jones (continued from last week):
To fulfill his promise, Perseus must seek the Hesperides (called sea nymphs in this series of paintings) for help, but he does not know where to find them. He must ask the Graiae (“gray ones” or “gray witches”) for information as to their whereabouts. Since they are sisters of Medusa, they are unlikely to help him willingly.
The three Graiae have only one eye between them and must share in its use. Perseus steals the eye as they are passing it among themselves and holds it at ransom until they give him the desired information.
He then goes to the Hesperides (sea nymphs), who give him a sack for safely transporting the head of Medusa. He also receives such tools as a polished shield from the goddess Athena (evidently shown out of sequence with a mirror in the first painting, The Call of Perseus, shown last week) winged sandals from Hermes, a helm of darkness from Hades, and a sword from Zeus. In the above picture, all of these events are consolidated as the conferring of the gifts by the sea nymphs, who are identified by virtue of being shown standing on a puddle.