Artist Caravaggio
Year 1597
Medium Oil on canvas mounted on wood
Location Uffizi, Florence
Dimensions 24 in × 22 in
60 cm × 55 cm
Famous Paintings by Caravaggio
David with the Head of Goliath
Conversion of St. Paul
Ecce Homo
Judith Beheading Holofernes
Supper At Emmaus
Sacrifice of Isaac
Complete Works

In order to appreciate Caravaggio’s painting of Medusa, it is important to know its background. A gorgon is a terrifying female creature in Greek mythology. Medusa was a gorgon with a mane of serpents for hair. She was so repulsive, that whoever looked at her, supposedly turned to stone. Perseus, the Greek hero, was given a shield by the goddess Athena, so that he could avoid looking at her, as he decapitated or beheaded her.

Medusa in Caravaggio’s painting is portrayed at the moment of self-recognition. Realizing that her head and body were no longer one, and that she was still conscious, Caravaggio depicts the horror in her eyes. Medusa is a wonderful example of Caravaggio’s focus on physiognomic, or facial expression in his paintings. Medusa shows an intense level of realism, and Caravaggio uses dark and light contrasts so effectively that Medusa looks three-dimensional.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Caravaggio, from Milan, Italy, was a part of the Baroque art movement. He was commissioned to paint Medusa as a gift for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to be placed in the Medici collection in Florence. Caravaggio was a pioneer in Italian Baroque style, which grew out of the Mannerist art movement. Italian Baroque was very similar to Italian Renaissance, yet the color palette was darker, and richer, and themes of religion were more popular.

Caravaggio was known for his naturalistic, and realistic paintings, termed Baroque realism. He used subjects who directly appealed to human emotions. His many light-to-dark contrasts made the paintings life-like, as if they were almost looking back. Medusa was a special commission for Caravaggio, because it enabled him to compete with Leonardo da Vinci, by submitting his painting to be viewed by the Medici family, as da Vinci did before him.

Medusa: The Second Version

The first version of this painting was named Murtula, after the poet who wrote about it, and was smaller in size. It was signed Michel A.F. (for Michel Angelo Fecit), and is privately owned. Medusa is an oil on canvas painting, mounted on a convex wooden shield. It is 60 x 55 cm. Caravaggio painted Medusa in 1597, and it is unsigned. It is displayed at Galleria degli Uffizi, in Florence, Italy.

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