Medusa (Bernini)

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Medusa is a marble sculpture of the eponymous character from the classical myth. It was executed by the Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. Its precise date of creation is unknown, but it is likely to have been executed in the 1630s. It was first documented in 1731 when presented to the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, and is now part of the collections of the Capitoline Museums.


The portrait draws on the myth of Medusa, the snake haired woman whose gaze could turn onlookers to stone. Unlike other depictions of the Medusa, such as Benevenuto Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa, the Medusa is not portrayed as a vanquished figure, her head severed from her body but as a living monster. Bernini’s decision to create a marble sculpture may be some kind of visual pun on the myth - creating a stone version of a living creature that could turn men to stone.


Nothing is known about its creation, and parts of the sculpture’s execution undermine Bernini’s authorship of the sculpture, most notable the heavy, over-exaggerated eyebrows and the rough treatment of the snakes. Yet the sensual fleshy quality of the cheeks and lip, the polished precision of the face, the tormented face of the Medusa and lively intelligence behind the literary concept and its unusual treatment point to the work of Bernini.


Considerable technical analysis and restoration of the sculpture took place in 2006.

Exhibitions outside Italy

Medusa was shown at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow in May, 2011, as part of the "Year of Italy in Russia". The sculpture is on exhibit through February 19, 2012 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The exhibit is part of the "Dream of Rome", a program to display art masterpieces from Rome in the United States from 2011 to 2013.



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