Tag Archives: the Perseus series

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 10)

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

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

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.

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

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.

(to be continued…)

Mythology on Canvas (Part 9)

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.

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

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.

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

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.

(to be continued)

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)