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Representations in Art

Zeus and Danaë. The tale of Zeus appearing to Danaëë in the form of a golden shower is easily interpreted as an allegory of the power of gold to corrupt. It has been popular with painters, especially in the Renaissance: some well-known interpretations are the paintings by Correggio (1530, in the Borghese Gallery at Rome) and Titian (1545, different versions in Naples, Madrid, and Vienna).

The Gorgon’s Head. Harriet Hosmer, moved by the pathos of the Gorgon’s tragedy, sculpted Medusa (1854, now in Detroit). The Gorgon’s head is very common on Greek vases and in sculpture, sometimes as an architectural filler or ornament, often by itself or in a decorative scheme. There is a fine limestone relief panel from Selinus (in Sicily, ca. 540 B.C.) showing the death of Medusa and the birth of Pegasus, with Athena standing beside Perseus. Of later works, preeminent are the statue of Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini (ca. 1550, in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence) and the painting by Caravaggio (1592, in the Uffizi at Florence). A cycle of paintings of the saga of Perseus was painted by Edward Burne-Jones (between 1877 and 1897, now in Stuttgart), in which the final painting, The Baleful Head, shows love (in the persons of Perseus and Andromeda) victorious over death (i.e., the Gorgon’s head).

Perseus and Andromeda. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods alone the legend of Perseus and Andromeda was painted by Annibale Caracci (1603, in the Farnese Palace at Rome), Rubens (1622, now in Berlin, and several times later), and Rembrandt (ca. 1635, now in the Hague), along with many other artists. The story has also been popular with Freudian and post-Freudian artists, beginning with Odilon Redon (1908, five paintings and a drawing) and including Salvador Dali (drawings, 1930-31) and André Masson (1943, in New York).

Io. The connection between the Greek Io and Egyptian religion is confusing and does not seem to have a genuinely religious or mythological basis. Io was originally a priestess of Hera, and her identification with Isis derives in part from the fact that in her statues her head was horned, like that of Isis.

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