Monday, 16 April 2012

Perseus and Andromeda

By way of contrast to the complexity, subtlety and mystery inherent in Olympia, Giorgio Vasari's Perseus and Andromeda (or Story of the origin of coral) is a classic example of Renaissance pseudo-eroticism...

Giorgio Vasari, Perseus and Andromeda, 1550-52, oil on slate, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

What is going on here? Beheadings, bondage, bathing nymphs, exhibitionism, lesbianism, drownings, sea monsters. Never meant for public view this painting appears a veritable feast or perversions, or is it? Originally designed as a door to a cupboard whose contents would be in some way related to the subject matter (perhaps a collection of coral which was seen as a good luck charm), it is in fact illustrating the myth as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Perseus...

...made a bed
Of leaves and spread the soft weed of the sea
Above, and on it placed Medusa's head.
The fresh seaweed, with living spongy cells, 
Absorbed the Gorgon's power and at its touch
Hardened, its fronds and branches stiff and strange.
The sea-nymphs tried the magic on more weed
And found to their delight it worked the same,
And sowed the changeling seeds back on the waves.
Coral still keeps that nature: in the air
It hardens; what beneath the sea has grown
A swaying plant, above it, turns to stone....
Then to his heart he took Andromeda,
Undowered, she herself his valour's prize.

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