Tag Archives: Medusa

Mythology on Canvas: Mythological Model (4)

This week’s offering is the Perseus series painted by Edward Burne-Jones and featuring Maria Zambaco as model. In the first painting, Perseus receives his call from the goddess, Athena. It looks as if Maria was used as the face model for both characters.

The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones
The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones

Her apparent profile (as Perseus) is seen again in the next painting…

Perseus and the Graiae by Edward Burne-Jones
Perseus and the Graiae by Edward Burne-Jones

… and again in the next. Her face also appears on at least two (possibly all three) of the Hesperides (sea nymphs), for which she surely was used as the body model as well.

Perseus and the Sea Nymphs by Edward Burne-Jones
Perseus and the Sea Nymphs by Edward Burne-Jones

 She seems also to have been a model for the Gorgon, Medusa, shown atypically without snakes in her hair. This approach of making a hideous figure hauntingly or morbidly beautiful adds poignancy to the next two paintings.

The Finding of Medusa by Edward Burne-Jones
The Finding of Medusa by Edward Burne-Jones

 

The Death of Medusa by Edward Burne-Jones
The Death of Medusa by Edward Burne-Jones

Maria is obviously Andromeda in the next sequence, in which Perseus finds her and rescues her from the sea serpent, Cetus.

The Rock of Doom by Edward Burn-Jones
The Rock of Doom by Edward Burn-Jones

 

The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones
The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones

Finally, we come to the last painting in the series. Andromeda is shown gazing at the head of Medusa reflected in a basin of water.

The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones
The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones

I covered this series in multiple posts earlier in my series, Mythology On Canvas. This was necessary because I gave more of the background for the actual myth, but I thought it would be good to visit this topic once again by showing all of the paintings together.

Next week: one more post on Maria Zambaco before changing topics.

Mythology on Canvas (Part 11)

The Perseus Series by Edward Burne-Jones (continued):

When her mother inappropriately (according to the convoluted etiquette of the gods) boasts of Andromeda’s beauty, this offends Poseidon. He inundates the coast of Aeithiopia (a fanciful Ethiopia) and sends the sea serpent, Cetus, to plague that country. The citizenry and rulers (i.e. her parents!) settle upon the “obvious” solution of offering Andromeda as a sacrifice to Cetus. Enter Perseus to rescue the naked (of course) maiden while she is chained to a rock at water’s edge.

The Rock of Doom by Edward Burn-Jones
The Rock of Doom by Edward Burn-Jones

He kills the sea serpent and frees Andromeda. In the following picture, The Doom Fulfilled, the action to the right is contrasted with the relaxed, almost reposeful stance of Andromeda.

The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones
The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones

All works out well in the end, and Perseus marries Andromeda. In The Baleful Head (the last painting of the series), we see a scene from the nineteenth century poem which I mentioned in Part 8. I now know that it is titled The Doom of King Acrisius and was written by William Morris (Thank you, Nevil Warbrook.). Perseus is showing Andromeda the head of Medusa by its reflection in what appears to be a bird bath or outdoor wash basin. Note that this time the hair of the Gorgon is shown as consisting of snakes.

The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones
The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones

Different paintings starting next week…

Mythology on Canvas (Part 8)

For the next several posts, I will comment on the Perseus series by Edward Burne-Jones . These paintings are based not strictly on the story from  ancient Greek mythology but also on a rather florid nineteenth century poem whose title and author at present escape my memory. Take, for example, the first painting in the series: The call of Perseus.

The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones
The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones

In looking up the details of the legend, I could find no mention of what this picture depicts, so I am assuming this scene came from the poem. The actual background is that the demigod Perseus was the son of Zeus and a mortal named Danae. Later on in the story, Perseus shields his mother from an amorous king under whose hospitality they are living. In an effort to disgrace Perseus, this king creates an occasion for various men to give him horses as gifts. Perseus (“of course, of course” for those who might recognize this phrase) has no horse but offers to fulfill any wish that the king might lay upon him. He is assigned the seemingly impossible task of bringing back the head of Medusa, a Gorgon with snakes for hair. Upon the mere sight of her, onlookers turn to stone.

(to be continued)