Medusa as Bestiary



Caravaggio’s Medusa (1598, Uffizi, Firenze


Tomorrow night is the first of a two-part THATLou series hosting an international law firm. Having lawyers, accustomed to scrutinizing small print, go a-hunting excites me no end, especially when they’ll be after imaginary creatures like bestiary (for balance they’re also after beauty). Will they catch this hint? Is that one too obvious? What about this bonus question — too involved? I’ve had loads of fun considering it all. And as a free-be to these fine solicitors, I’m posting the most involved bonus question here on the night before. Ironically, given their trade, they probably won’t have time to read beforehand, so I guess it’s good they’re clever enough to think on their feet to write a limerick in honor of one element of either of the below tales, both attached to the below sample treasure (NB this is expanded text, no piece of treasure has more than 10 or 12 lines, as you don’t have enough time to digest more whilst out on the prowl): 



Géricault’s Raft of Medusa (1818-1819) Louvre 


THE RAFT OF MEDUSA

Théodore GÉRICAULT (Rouen, 1791 – Paris, 1824)

19th Century French, H 4.91 x W 7.16m (in other words “Grand Format”)

The ‘Hope of Rescue’ is how Géricault chose to paint this painting, which stands as an icon of Romanticism. The Medusawas the name of a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. With over 150 soldiers on board, when the ship wreck took place in the Atlantic, they had to build rafts due to a shortage of lifeboats (talk about health and safety!). Only 10 people survived the 13-day odyssey, and the stories of cannibalism and brutality which ensued caught the fascination of Géricault, as well as contemporary journalists and the general public alike. This French number is famous enough to be studied in any introductory Art History class (please note the composition of two pyramids), but it’s the news story behind it that captures the interest of the general public.

The frigate was named for Medusa, the frightening Greek mythological creature with poisonous snakes for hair (talk about Bestiary!). To name a frigate Medusa in and of itself is a strange choice. Poseidon, God of the Sea, had been madly in love with the Gorgon sister Medusa, but when she spurned his love, he turned both her and her two sisters into monsters with snake hair. Poseidon also placed her in total isolation, by cursing her with the conversation-stopper-quality of being turned to stone if you met her gaze!

Aided by Athena and Hermes, the mortal Perseus went to the end of the world (where Poseidon had exiled her) to challenge Medusa, who’d been making trouble. He cleverly used the reflection of his  shield to avert her gazeand protect himself. When he got close enough to behead her, a volcano of blood sprouted, and from each drop of blood sprang more horrible creatures – Pegasus (a winged horse) and Chrysaor (a winged giant boar) – who were believed to have been Medusa’s children with Poseidon. Bestiary spawn bestiary, of course!


Perseus with Medusa’s head, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze 

So here’s the give away: take an element of this fantastic story – be it 19th Century French frigate or Greek mythology – and spin it into a limerick, for muchos puntos. Now how’s that for impetus for thinking of the quickest rhyme for frigate? Perhaps mitigate? Go to it, Lawyers!

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Caravaggio’s 1598 painting of Medusa (at top) is among the most famous images of her in art (rightly so!), and just down the street from where she lives at the Galleria degli Uffizi is this statue of Perseus, with poor Medusa’s brains dangling from her beheaded neck (his perfect frame is standing on her body). My mother always said that what I called dangling brains was in fact her hair, but I say pshah! What child doesn’t like gore – and that gore doesn’t look like snakes, does it? The story of Medusa is also covered in this Greek Dinos — a Greek pot measuring a meter in height and filled to the brim with diluted wine … My those Greeks liked to drink! Both of these pieces of treasure often appear in the same hunt and cross reference each other so to reinforce the story — perhaps highlighting what instrument allowed Perseus to get close enough to slice Medusa’s head off!

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This Gericault Raft of Medusa is certainly a juicy number. Being such an iconic piece of French Romanticism (and Louvre “Greatest Hit”) I dare say it also appears in the Public Hunts “All Things Gaul” hunt held every Bastille Day (works only by Frenchmen) and in the Halloween Death hunt.

Here are lovely write ups of the first Halloween Hunt, one in Aussie in France the other in Colleen’s Paris. The former write up includes the following limerick (unfortunately I’m not at liberty to post any of the clever limericks the lawyers wrote due to client confidentiality)

Poseidon the god of the sea
Rarely took time for a pee, but
He pulled down his trunks
Screamed “you are all skunks”
And did it before all who could see

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Noted elsewhere in the blog, strictly speaking the term “Bestiary” covers Medieval European imaginary creatures such as Unicorns, Griffins, Dragons, etc. For the purposes of you seeing a broader expanse of the Louvre, however, the Beauty + Bestiary THATLou theme stretches the definition of Bestiary to Egyptian Sphinxes, Greek Centaurs and as you see here, the likes of half-human Gorgons.