Friday, May 10, 2013

On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery

The Head of Medusa, ca. 1600, Uffzi Gallery, Florence Italy

It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky, 
  Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;  
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly; 
  Its horror and its beauty are divine. 
Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie 
  Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine,  
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,  
The agonies of anguish and of death. 

Yet it is less the horror than the grace  
  Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone;
Whereon the lineaments of that dead face  
  Are graven, till the characters be grown  
Into itself, and thought no more can trace; 
  'Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown  
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain,
Which humanize and harmonize the strain. 

And from its head as from one body grow, 
  As [   ] grass out of a watery rock, 
Hairs which are vipers, and they curl and flow  
  And their long tangles in each other lock,
And with unending involutions shew  
  Their mailed radiance, as it were to mock  
The torture and the death within, and saw  
The solid air with many a ragged jaw. 

And from a stone beside, a poisonous eft
  Peeps idly into those Gorgonian eyes; 
Whilst in the air a ghastly bat, bereft  
  Of sense, has flitted with a mad surprise  
Out of the cave this hideous light had cleft, 
  And he comes hastening like a moth that hies
After a taper; and the midnight sky  
Flares, a light more dread than obscurity. 

'Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror;  
  For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare  
Kindled by that inextricable error, 35 
  Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air  
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror  
  Of all the beauty and the terror there— 
A woman's countenance, with serpent locks, 
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks. 

~   by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelly tragically drowned in 1822 during a storm long before the 20th Century debate that this painting is in fact attributed to an anonymous Florentine painter and not Leonardo Da Vinci. The Head of Medusa was attributed to Leonardo by his biographer, Luigi Lanzi based primarily on his description of the work given by Vasari in The Lives of the Artists, p. 258-261 there are two separate Medusa painting stories. The painting in the Florentine Gallery is about the the Medusa make of oils and described as being "...kept among the fine works of art in the palace of Duke Cosimo...". The first story was about a "Buckler" (essentially a shield). To read about the Medusa stories online check out the Full Text 'Stories of the Italian Artists From Vasari' starting with story 147. Shelly would have had no way of knowing this was not Leonardo's work, however as always Shelley's work is wonderful.

Two additional Medusa images which I love are below:

Medusa, 1598-99, Oil on Canvas on Mounted Wood, Caravaggio, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Head of Medusa, c. 1617-18, Color on Canvas, Peter Paul Rubens, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria 

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