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Florence: Rare Medusa Exhibition at Uffizi

Dec 29th, 2008 | By | Category: Property of the Month


Art lovers visiting Florence are in for a special treat over the holidays, with an annual exhibition of precious works usually kept in storage.  This year`s event on display at the Uffizzi until 31 January, focuses on Medusa, exploring the portrayal of the snake-haired gorgon through centuries of art.  The exhibit features 40 artworks, including ceramics, drawings, paintings and jewellery, with a number of gems usually stored in Florence`s Archaeological Museum. In addition, it will feature several different editions of Dante`s Divine Comedy, with plates of Medusa who appears in Canto IX of the Inferno.A volume of Ovid`s Metamorphoses recounting the Roman poet`s version of the Medusa myth is also on display.

However, the focal point of the event will be a painting by an unknown Flemish painter, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci for over a century. Completed around 1600, it shows a disturbingly realistic  decapitated head, lying on the ground in a nest of writhing snakes, as toads and bats look on.  The mistaken attribution was the result of a description by 16th-century writer Giorgio Vasari, which a later piographer, Luigi Lanzi, seized upon while searching for `new` Leonardo paintings in Florence`s Uffizi Gallery.

The painting was considered by some as one of Leonardo`s greatest works and it was only in the 20th century that art historians conclusively debunked the attribution. Although the Uffizi has staged an annual winter
exhibition of pieces normally kept in storage for the last eight years, the decision to highlight an individual work of art marks something of a turning point, according to gallery director, Antonio Natali

In Greek mythology, Medusa was one of three gorgons able to turn people to stone by looking at them.
She was beheaded by Perseus, who managed to kill her by looking in a mirror and who later gave her head to Athena to place on her shield.  In Ancient Greek times, a stylised Medusa head was commonly used on homes and temples to avert evil.

Medusa has fascinated countless artists since then,appearing in works by Peter Paul Rubens, Pablo Picasso,
Auguste Rodin and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The tragic mythical figure exerts a particularly strong
pull in Florence, which is home to two of the best-known depictions of Medusa.  Benvenuto Cellini`s statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa in Piazza della Signoria has become one of the Tuscan city`s emblematic images.

A recently restored painting by Caravaggio, completed in 1600 and now on permanent display in the Uffizi, offers a far more sinister interpretation of Medusa, open-mouthed and screaming in agony.


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