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Bronze Head of Medusa

Bronze Head of Medusa


The Artist Behind a (Very Questionable) Nude Public Statue of Medusa as a Feminist Avenger Defends His Work

Luciano Garbati, Medusa With The Head of Perseus in Collect Pond Park, New York City. Photo courtesy of MWTH Project and Art in the Parks.

Medusa, the terrifying monster of ancient Greek myth, stands triumphant in New York City today, holding aloft the head of her slayer, Perseus, in a new seven-foot-tall bronze statue outside of the New York County Criminal Court in Lower Manhattan.

But the work, which is on view outside the courtroom where Harvey Weinstein was tried and sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, has critics who take issue with a male artist criticizing sexual violence against women, according to Hyperallergic.

The piece, Medusa With the Head of Perseus, is the work of Luciano Garbati, who was inspired by Medusa’s tragic story as it was told by the Roman poet Ovid in the Metamorphosis. The god Poseidon raped Medusa, who was then victim-blamed and punished by Athena, who cursed Medusa by turning her into a deadly monster with serpents for hair. The hero Perseus later defeated Medusa by beheading her.

Benvenuto Cellini, Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545–54) in the Piazza Della Signoria in Florence. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garbati wanted to humanize the woman behind the myth, and to question her identity as a monster. He based his sculpture, originally created in 2008, on the Italian Renaissance masterpiece Perseus With the Head of Medusa (1545–54) by Benvenuto Cellini, located in the Piazza Della Signoria in Florence.

It was an idea that resonated when he posted a resin version of the artwork on Instagram in June 2018. With the #MeToo movement in full swing following reports of sexual abuse by Weinstein, Garbati’s Medusa was adopted by some as a feminist symbol of equality and justice.

“Something in the sculpture has been captivating women’s attention, which means that I have been able to capture in it some aspect of the feminine pathos,” Garbati told Artnet News in an email.

Luciano Garbati, Medusa With The Head of Perseus in Collect Pond Park, New York City. Photo courtesy of MWTH Project and Art in the Parks.

But some have taken offense at the statue’s lack of pubic hair, which they say reflects idealized beauty conventions. (More humorously, the sculpture has also spawned jokes about whether that part of Medusa’s body was also covered in snakes).

“I believe in the necessity of gender equality and I am honored to be part of the discussion,” Garbati told Artnet News, adding that the lack of body hair was an artistic choice made in “the tradition of classical sculpture. It is the same when it comes to male representations.”

“Formally in a sculpture, the pubic hair can easily become either an unwanted distraction or an artificial ornament,” he said.

If this is supposed to be so empowering for women, why is Medusa so skinny and pube-less? This seems more like some man’s fantasy than a statement a commentary on sexual assault.

&mdash Laika the Space Dog (@MicaelaMendlow) October 11, 2020

Garbati’s Medusa previously made her New York debut in December 2018 in the “MWTH Project,” a group show exploring revisionist versions of classical heroic narratives. Organized by photographer Bek Andersen in response to the Medusa statue, the show has since evolved into an artist-led project.

A new version of the sculpture, cast in bronze by Vanessa Solomon of Carbon Sculpt Studios in Red Hook and Laran Bronze Foundry in Philadelphia, has been created for the latest presentation, staged in Collect Park Pond by the New York City Park Department’s Art in the Parks program.


The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Vincenzo Gemito (Italian, 1852 - 1929) 23.5 cm (9 1/4 in.) 86.SE.528

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Object Details

Title:
Artist/Maker:
Culture:
Place:

Naples, Campania, Italy (Place Created)

Medium:
Object Number:
Dimensions:
Signature(s):

Signed and dated at bottom center of the obverse, "1911, GEMITO"

Inscription(s):

"1911, GEMITO," at bottom center of front

Department:

Sculpture & Decorative Arts

Classification:
Object Type:
Object Description

The severed head of Medusa stares out from the convex face of a two-sided relief . Its psychological realism , simultaneously beautiful and hideous, reveals the conflicting yet symbiotic emotions of attraction and repulsion. This combination expresses the power of ancient Greek apotropaic objects, charms that warded off evil. Since the sight of Medusa's face--transformed by the goddess Athena into a monster with snakes for hair--had turned men into stone, it became a traditional apotropaic symbol. Athena affixed the actual Medusa's monstrous head to her shield, and human warriors followed suit.

The sculptor Vincenzo Gemito derived his composition from the famous antique cameo, the Tazza Farnese, but transformed it into an entirely new kind of sculptural object. He revived Renaissance techniques of lost-wax casting to make the relief. Although he concentrated on the face of the two-sided, glistening metallic relief, he textured the back with snakeskin.

Provenance
Provenance

Lester Carl Bean, about 1901 - 1967 (Freeport, Maine) and Hazel Bean, born about 1906 (Freeport, Maine) [sold, Skinner, Boston, October 3, 1980, lot 617, to Mr. and Mrs. Piero Corsini]

1980 - before 1986

Piero Corsini (New York, New York) and Marjetta Corsini (New York, New York)

Piero Corsini Inc. (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.

Exhibitions
Exhibitions
Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929) (October 15, 2019 to November 15, 2020)
  • Musée du Petit Palais (Paris), October 15, 2019 to January 26, 2020
  • Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte (Naples), September 10 to November 15, 2020
Bibliography
Bibliography

Antonelli, L. "Vincenzo Gemito a Roma: La sua Medusa e la sua Sirena." Tribuna (28 April 1911).

"Cronaca." Arte 14 (March-April 1911), p. 148.

Esposizione internazionale di Roma, 1911: Catalogo della mostra di belle arti, exh. cat. (Bergamo, 1911), p. 13, no. 37B.

Scarpa, P. Artisti contemporanei italiani e stranieri residenti in Italia (Milan, 1928), pp. 111-12, ill.

Somaré, E., and A. Schettini. Gemito (Milan, 1944), p. 201, pl. 57.

Guida, G. Vincenzo Gemito (Rome, 1952), unnumbered plate.

Art News 82 (December 1983), inside cover advertisement.

"Acquisitions/1986." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 15 (1987), p. 221, no. 126.

Fusco, Peter. "Medusa as a Muse for Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929)." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 16 (1988), pp. 127-32.

González-Palacios, Alvar. Il Velo delle Grazie (Turin, 1992), pp. 88-89, pl. 11.

Turner, Jane, ed. The Dictionary of Art (New York: Grove, 1996), vol. 12, p. 268 (general mention, entry by Peter Ward-Jackson).

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 4th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 273, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 6th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001), p. 273, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 8th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015), p. 318, ill.

Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource

In this lesson plan students consider symbolic forms and sketch their own designs for a symbolic sculpture.

In this lesson students evaluate their own sketches, choose a final design, and create their own symbolic sculpture.

In this lesson Students participate in a class critique of the symbolic sculptures they created.

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Bronze Head of Medusa - History

Medusa
Perseus's story is one of many Greek monster-slayer myths that features the theme of good outwitting evil. Since at least the 6th century B.C., Greeks placed images of Medusa's terrifying head on shields and buildings in order to frighten away enemies and evil spirits.

According to 4th-century B.C. revisions of her story, Medusa was a beautiful woman who was turned into a monster by jealous Athena. At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, writers and artists popularized this image of Medusa as a beautiful young woman.

French Sculpture
No single style dominated French sculpture at the turn of the century. Sculptors worked in NATURALISTIC, expressionistic, and ABSTRACT symbolic styles. In response to the popular appeal of the consciously decorative Art Nouveau style, many artists sought subjects that allowed them to incorporate its organic forms and long, sinuous curves into their art.


Emile-Antoine Bourdelle
Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (ay-MEEL an-TWAN boor-DELL) was an eclectic sculptor who drew upon a number of the diverse trends of his time, including elements of the Art Nouveau style. He drew most heavily upon the organic qualities of French Medieval cathedral sculpture and the simple forms of early Greek sculpture. Motivated by his conviction that history's greatest sculptures were those integrated with architecture, Bourdelle created many of his sculptures for architectural settings.

Roll over the image to see specific attributes from the Door Knocker in Form of Medusa


Door Knocker in Form of Medusa
In this bronze door knocker, Bourdelle depicts the severed head of Medusa, hanging from Perseus's clenched fist. Above his hand a bunch of snakes writhe, striking out as if they are going to attack. Below, only a few of Medusa's many braids actually look like scaly snakes.

As was popular at the turn of the century, Bourdelle represents Medusa as a beautiful young woman rather than the horrible monster of the original story. Her facial features - high cheekbones, narrow nose, square chin, and the corners of her small mouth - consciously recall the expressively modeled faces of early Greek sculptures of young women. The dominant curves of her hair, however, reflect the popular Art Nouveau style.

Bourdelle's clever transformation of Medusa into an ornamental door knocker attests to his commitment to integrating sculpture and architecture. Two entwined braids extend from ear to ear to create the knocker's handle. When lifted up and then let go, Medusa's head would knock against the circular form behind it. Bourdelle produced ten casts of this door knocker, an indication that he designed it for a general market rather than for a specific door.


How Garbati’s Medusa shames men

One would be very interested to know how artist Garbati has empowered Medusa, a rape victim, with this creatively magnificent work. The artist has totally reversed the actual story to make the statue relevant to today’s times.

The story of Medusa goes like this: “Medusa was a maiden in the temple of Athena, who was stalked and raped by Poseidon. Athena, in a rage, banishes and curses Medusa with a monstrous head of snakes and a gaze that turns men to stone. Medusa is herself blamed and punished for the crime of which she was the victim she is cast away as a monster and then with the cruel assistance of Athena and Poseidon, eventually is hunted-down and beheaded by the epic hero Perseus, who displays her head as a trophy on his shield.”

A statue based on this story was created by Benvenuto Cellini in a 16th Century Florentine bronze masterpiece. There he showed ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’. So if you find the original classical story as a testament to injustice, then this is primarily what Garbati also felt. Garbati asked on the shaming and torture inflicted on Medusa, “how can a triumph be possible if you are defeating a victim.”

Later, this question made him reimagine the story of Medusa with a feminist outlook. As a result, in 2018, he made his version of the statue that will be now installed across the NYC Criminal Court. This statue is an antidote to the previous statue by Cellini. In his, work Garbati re-interprets Medusa and makes her stand as a defiant, rather than a rape victim. She is portrayed staring down at the observer, holding the severed head of Perseus, one of the many men who sought to abuse and entrap her.


The Classical Story of Perseus and Medusa

As the story goes, King Acrisius of Argos had one child, a daughter named Danae. Concerned by this, Acrisius traveled to Delphi to consult the oracle. He asked the priestess if he would have a son, and she said no. The priestess did inform the king that his daughter would bear a son. However, the priestess warned Acrisius that the son of Danae would kill him.

Danaë and a shower of gold, representing god Zeus visiting and impregnating Danaë. ( Public Domain )

To prevent this, Acrisius placed his daughter in an underground apartment made of bronze with an open roof. Acrisius, thinking his problem was over, would soon be shocked. As Danae dwells in solitude, Zeus notices the beautiful Danae. Seeing her beauty, Zeus decided to visit Danae in the form of a shower of gold and impregnated her. In due time, a messenger arrived to inform Acrisius that his daughter gave birth to a son. She named the boy Perseus. Acrisius knew that he could not kill the infant for he would feel the wrath of Zeus. Therefore, to get rid of his problem, he placed his daughter and his grandson in a box and set them adrift on the sea.

Danae and son Perseus were set adrift, and landed at Seriphus. ( Public Domain )

Eventually the chest made its way to the island of Seriphus. An angler by the name of Dictys discovered the chest and opened it to discover the woman and child trapped inside. Dictys decided to take care of the woman and the child, brought them to his home, and accepted them as family, since he and his wife had no children of their own. As time passed, Perseus grew to manhood.

Dictys had a brother, King Polydectes of Seriphus. Polydectes was a cruel king who had eyes for Danae. Danae refused his advances, as she was already the bride of Zeus. Polydectes bullied her, but as time passed, he grew fearful of Perseus, who had grown into a strong and athletic man. To get rid of Perseus, Polydectes talked to him and informed the young man that he was wasting his time on the island. He should leave and see the world and become a hero, since he was the son of Zeus. Perseus, intrigued by this, asked what could he do that would be considered heroic. Polydectes could have named many things, but he wanted to be rid of Perseus and informed the young man that if he wanted to be a hero, that he should kill the Gorgon, Medusa, and bring back her head.

Polydectes explained to Perseus that three sisters known as Gorgons lived in the west. But of the three, Medusa was the most beautiful. He informed Perseus that Medusa had snakes for hair and if you looked upon her, you would surely turn to stone. (That doesn’t sound so beautiful).

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Top Image: Embossed, metal plaque from 1911 featuring Medusa (Sailko/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )


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Picture of the week: Head of Medusa, bronze fitting of the Nemi Ships built by Caligula at Lake Nemi

Ahead of tonight’s programme about Caligula (BBC Two 21:00) presented by Mary Beard, here is a picture of a bronze fitting head of Medusa that decorated one of the Nemi Ships. The vessels were built on the orders of emperor Caligula around AD 37-41.

The bronze fittings are the most important set of objects found during work to rescue the Nemi ships. The objects form a decorative apparatus of exceptional richness: the ships were clearly ostentatious luxury vessels used as an expression of power. The larger ship was essentially an elaborate floating palace, which contained quantities of marble, mosaic floors and even baths.

Some of the photographs taken during the recovery of the Nemi ships can be seen here. Sadly they were later destroyed by a fire in 1944 during WWII. Only the bronzes, a few charred timbers and some material stored in Rome survived the fire. Scale models of the ships were built and are exhibited at the Museo delle Navi Romane di Nemi among other remaining artefacts.

The bronze fitting head of Medusa was placed high up, as if to watch over the ship with her gaze. The other bronze fittings are in the form of animal heads. Three lions and a panther adorned the ends of the beams running across the ship. Photos of these animal heads can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.

The bronze fittings are now on display in the National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome.


While You Are Ringing In The Summer, Don't Forget To Remember The Importance Of What We Have Off For.

Home of the free because of the brave.

"The American flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies from the last breath of each solider who died protecting it."

On this present day in America, we currently have over 1.4 million brave men and women actively listed in the armed forces to protect and serve our country.

Currently there is an increased rate of 2.4 million retiree's from the US military

Approximately, there has been over 3.4 million deaths of soldiers fighting in wars.

Every single year, everyone look's forward to Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where beaches become overcrowded, people fire up them grills for a fun sunny BBQ, simply an increase of summer activities, as a "pre-game" before summer begins.

Many American's have forgot the true definition of why we have the privilege to celebrate Memorial Day.

In simple terms, Memorial Day is a day to pause, remember, reflect and honor the fallen who died protecting and serving for everything we are free to do today.

Thank you for stepping forward, when most would have stepped backwards.

Thank you for the times you missed with your families, in order to protect mine.

Thank you for involving yourself, knowing that you had to rely on faith and the prayers of others for your own protection.

Thank you for being so selfless, and putting your life on the line to protect others, even though you didn't know them at all.

Thank you for toughing it out, and being a volunteer to represent us.

Thank you for your dedication and diligence.

Without you, we wouldn't have the freedom we are granted now.

I pray you never get handed that folded flag. The flag is folded to represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. Each fold carries its own meaning. According to the description, some folds symbolize freedom, life, or pay tribute to mothers, fathers, and children of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

As long as you live, continuously pray for those families who get handed that flag as someone just lost a mother, husband, daughter, son, father, wife, or a friend. Every person means something to someone.

Most Americans have never fought in a war. They've never laced up their boots and went into combat. They didn't have to worry about surviving until the next day as gunfire went off around them. Most Americans don't know what that experience is like.

However, some Americans do as they fight for our country every day. We need to thank and remember these Americans because they fight for our country while the rest of us stay safe back home and away from the war zone.

Never take for granted that you are here because someone fought for you to be here and never forget the people who died because they gave that right to you.

So, as you are out celebrating this weekend, drink to those who aren't with us today and don't forget the true definition of why we celebrate Memorial Day every year.

"…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."


Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)

Mannerist sculptor, goldsmith, technical writer and author, Benvenuto Cellini wrote a famous fast-paced autobiography, which arguably has given him a wider reputation than that justified by his works alone. Nevertheless, art historians now consider him to be one of the most important Renaissance sculptors, and his statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa is regarded as one of the masterpieces of 16th-century Florentine art. Cellini also wrote a number of technical books on goldsmithing, design and the art of sculpture.

Cellini's career during the cinquecento may be divided into three basic periods: (1) 1500-40, during which time he worked mostly with precious metals (2) 1540-45, when he worked in France for King Francis I at Fontainebleau and (3) the remainder of his life in Florence, where he took up large-scale freestanding sculpture. Prone to violence and debauchery, as well as the creation of precious metalwork and other 3-D art, Cellini was probably lucky to live as long as he did.

BEST WORKS OF SCULPTURE
For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

SCULPTING MEDIA
For different types of carving,
and modelling, see:
Stone Sculpture
From igneous, sedimentary rocks.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Wood Carving
Chip carving, relief carving.
Bronze Sculpture
Lost-wax casting method.

EVOLUTION OF SCULPTURE
For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Benvenuto Cellini was the third child of the musician Giovanni Cellini. At the age of fifteen, contrary to the hopes of his father, he was apprenticed to the Florentine goldsmith Antonio di Sandro. The following year he fled to Siena to escape charges of riotous behaviour, where he continued his training under the goldsmith Fracastoro. From Siena he moved to Bologna, visited Pisa and returned twice to Florence, before leaving for Rome. He was nineteen years old but already attracting attention for his metalworking ability.

Little is recorded of his early career in Rome, or the details of the goldsmiths or workshops where he practised his craft. We do know that he created a number of precious objects, including a silver casket and some silver candlesticks, after which he made a vase for the Bishop of Salamanca. This latter item brought him to the favourable attention of Pope Clement VII.

Shortly afterwards, in 1527, during the violence accompanying the attack upon Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, Cellini's bravery proved of exceptional value to the Pope, who rewarded this service by smoothing things over with the Florentine legal authorities. This allowed Cellini to return to his native Florence, although he was soon on the move again - first to the court of the Duke of Mantua, then to Florence. From 1529 until 1537 he spent most of his time in Rome, where he became embroiled in various violent escapades, including two murders, being protected only by Papal intervention.

During this period his main artistic output was a series of medallions - notably Leda and the Swan, created for the Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino a medal featuring Heracles and the Nemean Lion, in gold repousse work and another in chased gold featuring Atlas holding up the world - along with a range of jewellery, as well as dies for private medals and papal coinage.

A fall-out with the Pope in the late 1530s ultimately led to Cellini's move to France where he worked at the court of Francis I at Fontainebleau and Paris. It was in France that he created his famous saltcellar (Saliera, 1540-1543, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) made from gold adorned with enamel, with an ebony base. As always, however, his temperament, artistic skill and debauchery ensured him of numerous enemies, whom he was (for once) unable to subdue by physical means. As a result, after five years of successful goldsmithery, he left Fontainebleau and retired to Florence. (Please note: for more details of the artistic activity at the French royal court, see Fontainebleau School 1530-1610.)

Note About Art Appreciation
To learn how to judge Mannerist artists like the Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

In Florence Cellini continued as a goldsmith but also took up large-scale sculpture in the round, becoming the rival of sculptor Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560). His masterpiece, made for Cosimo I de' Medici and one of the greatest examples of Florentine Mannerist sculpture, is the bronze statue Perseus with the head of Medusa (1545-54, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence). The casting of this immortal statue reportedly caused Cellini the utmost trouble and anxiety, while its final completion and display was hailed with rapturous acclaim from all over Italy. Other notable although not memorable works included his two bronze portrait busts - Cosimo I (1545-8, Bargello, Florence) and Bindo Altoviti (1550, Gardner Museum, Boston) - along with several marble sculptures.

The unveiling of Perseus (1554) marked the zenith of Cellini's career as an artist. Three years later he was sentenced to four years in jail for illegal physical practices, and his output thereafter was limited to his autobiography and various books on sculpture and the art of goldsmithery. He died unmarried in Florence at the age of 70, though survived by numerous children, and was buried with great honours.


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