Friday, October 29, 2010

A Halloween Medusa

Since Halloween is here, I wanted to highlight a creepy painting to delight (and horrify!) my readers. If you think that Peter Paul Rubens only painted rosy-faced saints and voluptuous women, think again. A few weeks ago I came across Ruben's painting Head of Medusa (c. 1617, shown above). This is the creepiest painting by Rubens that I have ever seen. Medusa's dead eyes stare into the distance, while her snakelike hair continues to writhe and squirm. Eek!

Actually, I am reminded of one other Rubens painting which includes some similarly dark subject matter. Miracle of St. Ignatius Loyola (c. 1617, about the same time as the Medusa painting) also has wide-eyed demons writhing in the background. In fact, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (which owns both paintings) suggested that there are some stylistic comparisons between the demons and Medusa.

It is thought that when making the Head of Medusa, Rubens was influenced by Italian masters like Caravaggio (who had painted the same subject matter in 1598-99). I tend to agree with the argument that Rubens made this painting for a connoisseur (and perhaps collector) of both paintings and natural objects. Rubens certainly pays keen attention to the various types of snakes, bugs, and creepy-crawly things.

Do you know of any other "dark" works by Rubens? These are the only two of which I am aware, but there may be more out there.

Have a Happy Halloween! (If you haven't submitted a post for the upcoming art history carnival, please send me one today!)