The Defeated

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The head of Medusa, ca. 1617-18


Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a famous Netherlandish draughtsman and painter that emphasized movement, color, and emotion into his pieces. He is known for his counter reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and historical works of art.

The head of Medusa was one of his mythological historical pieces he had created with notable influences from Caravaggio’s piece that showed a Gorgon at the moment of her final cry before death on Minerva’s shield (roman goddess of wisdom). Rubens approach to Medusa varied in the sense that he depicted this mythological creature already dead showing a type of triumph that had already taken place.

This piece uses color to draw your attention to the center of the piece where the blood and the snakes are. This is used to draw emotion to the viewer because at the time this piece was created, snakes were used as a sign of the devil or sin. He used light and darkness to create clear contrasts on where “light” was shining above giving way to the decapitated Gorgon laying on the and also showing that a battle had been won. Ruben uses different shades to give a deathly appearance to Medusa’s facial expressions and the invoked fear that lays in her eyes before she was beheaded.

 “Sixteenth-century emblems also suggest that Perseus with the head of Medusa could embody the idea that acts of glory (and, implicitly, works of art), when achieved through the efforts of wisdom and eloquence, could render humankind rigid with amazement.”

This piece shows heavy influence from royalty because during this time period Rubens was a highly commissioned artist that mainly painted religious, mythological, and hunt scenes for the wealthy which was usually people of royal background. Royalty would have a piece like this in their home to show their guests the glory they had accumulated in their lifetime and to instill fear showing that they had won in battle. 

“The Head of Medusa, 1617-1618 by Peter Paul Rubens.” The Head of Medusa, 1617-1618 by Peter Paul Rubens. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

“Rubens Head of Medusa from the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna) -.” CODART. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.


1 Comment

  1. Bridget! I always love the pieces you choose to comment on, and they remind me of the pieces of artwork I love. With this piece I love the colors, realistic nature of how the artist painted Medusa, and as well how it is easy to tell what the main focus is on. I am not a huge fan of the gruesome decapitation, but again there is something beautiful about it. The whole “Acts of Glory” theme makes perfect sense, to what this piece of art depicts, giving us more to think about. Analyzing it more, looking deeper into the art. Possibly finding more, than what the artist originally intended.


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