Peter Paul Rubens, Medusa, 1617-18

According to Ovid, Medusa was a beautiful mortal who was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Minerva (Athena). When Athena found out, she punished Medusa by cursing her with snakes for hair and a face that when looked upon, turned men into stone. King Polydectes sent the hero Perseus on a quest to fetch the head; Perseus did so by slaying the sleeping Medusa while looking at her reflection in a mirrored shield given to him by Athena. Since she was pregnant by Poseidon, Chrysaor (a giant wielding a golden sword) flew out of her on Pegasus (a winged horse) when she died.
Rubens gives us a different scene; a rather quiet one (for Rubens anyway, a master of action scenes) where Medusa’s head has been lopped off and still sits on the ground before Perseus picks it up. Snakes escape and bite one another, while little ones are born out of Medusa’s blood.

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