Beginning in the fifth century B.C., Medusa—the snaky-haired Gorgon whose gaze turned men to stone—became increasingly anthropomorphic and feminine, undergoing a visual transformation from grotesque to beautiful. A similar shift in representations of other mythical female half-human beings—such as sphinxes, sirens, and the sea monster Scylla—took place at the same time. Featuring sixty artworks, primarily from The Met collection, this exhibition explores how the beautification of these terrifying figures manifested the idealizing humanism of Classical Greek art, and traces their enduring appeal in both Roman and later Western art.
The connection between beauty and horror, embodied above all in the figure of Medusa, outlived antiquity, fascinating and inspiring artists through the centuries. Medusa became the archetypical femme fatale, a conflation of femininity, erotic desire, violence, and death. Along with the beautiful Scylla, she foreshadows the conceit of the seductive but threatening female that emerges in the late nineteenth century in reaction to women's empowerment.
Listen to the Dangerous Beauty Soundscape, composed by Austin Fisher, 2018
"The dark charm of Medusa conquers the Met." (Η σκοτεινή γοητεία της Μέδουσας κατακτά το Met.) —LiFO
"Boldly mingles objects from across centuries in the compact exhibition" —Hyperallergic
"Highly significant ... Medusa and the sirens are still heard in the twenty-first century, and not just in Versace's erotic dresses. Now they present their feminine power at the center of New York City, in the most respected of museums." —Terminal
The exhibition is made possible by The Vlachos Family Fund and Diane Carol Brandt.
The accompanying Bulletin is made possible in part by the Jenny Boondas Fund. The Met's quarterly Bulletin program is supported in part by the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader's Digest.
Watch Monsters, an episode of 82nd and Fifth, with Curator Kiki Karoglou.
Finial from a chariot, 1st–2nd century A.D. Roman, Imperial. Bronze, silver, copper, H. 7 1/4 in. W. 7 1/8 in. D. 4 1/4 in. (18.3 x 17.9 x 10.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.75)