Student Symposium Presentations

Other Projects

  • "Perpetuating the paragone and perfecting nature: Rubens's head of Medusa", Erin Daly

    The Head of Medusa is one of Rubens's most gruesome and violent products. In collaboration with Frans Snyders, he presents a most impressive Medusa, one that, as Constantijn Huygens said, is, “...done with such indescribable skill that it delights the viewer who is overwhelmed with sudden terror by the very richness of the piece, as it is lively and charming.” In Lisa Rosenthal's Gender, Politics, and Allegory in the Art of Rubens, she acknowledges the original Latin construction of Huygens' seemingly off-hand response to Head of Medusa, "viuida venustaque delectet," which suggests two essential aspects of Medusa's persona. Viuida means liveliness or spirited and invokes notions of Medusa's "legendary powers" of regeneration, while the term venus captures a nuanced sense of both her "charming" and "seductive" qualities. It is aspects of the creative and feminine which are crucial to understanding Rubens's domination and use of both.

    Critical analyses have been proposed by Rosenthal, who understands Rubens's role as hero artist triumphant, wielder of the Medusa, and by Susan Koslow, who responds to misogynistic themes in the portrait. Yet these are merely elements of a larger narrative structure, and a link between their scholarship exists in Rubens's employment of his own theory in relation to Head of Medusa as he engaged in the rhetoric surrounding the paragone. By analyzing De Imitatione Statuarum and its reflected principles found in the exterior and interior Rubens's own home, the relationship between artist and perfection is illustrated. Almost scientifically, the artist administers selective imitation, therein harnessing nature and displaying perfection, a concept echoed in Rubens's naturelia and sculpture gallery. Head of Medusa is the ultimate mimetic tool and allows Rubens, as hero artist, to cultivate and perfect feminine "nature" in order to address the paragone.