(1577 - 1640)
La Tête de Méduse
Ever since Antiquity, depictions of the head of Medusa with protruding tongue, exposed teeth and snake-shaped hair were to be seen on soldiers' shields (bronze and wooden) located at the entrance to buildings as a talisman warding off danger. In decorative and applied art of 16th century Western Europe, such depictions were disseminated to a certain extent.
Against the background of a gloomy landscape with low clouds we see the brightly illuminated head of Medusa lying on a stony ledge almost devoid of vegetation. Her deathly pale face with frozen gaze, glassy eyes and half-open mouth are filled with an expression of horror. Although Medusa is dead, her repulsive snakelike hair continues to live: it stirs, twists, shakes, intertwine, forming moving rings and balls. The drops of blood which have fallen to the ground give rise to newborn small snakes. The insects and crawling animals on the painting are united in the composition obviously because from time immemorial they around fear and repulsion in men. In many books on 16th and 17th century symbols, they are associated with the world of the devil and with sin. That is most likely the sense they convey in Rubens painting as well: they relate directly to the central image of the Gorgon Medusa.