The Gorgon Medusa
A coral carving of Medusa, circa 1840. From ancient times Medusa was an apotropaic symbol used to protect from evil and ward off the negative, much like the modern evil eye. She was a primordial threat meant to deter other dangerous threats, an image of evil to repel evil. In ancient myth, Medusa was one of the three Gorgons. The word Gorgon meant ‘dreadful’ and indeed they were. The distinctive characteristics of the Gorgons were venomous snakes writhing in their hair and eyes that turned those who looked at them to stone. Here Medusa stares, uncompromisingly confronting the viewer. As a consequence of the Medusa’s ability to turn mortals into stone, her image proliferated in the Roman world. In architecture her baleful head was used everywhere against the evil eye, on pediments, frescoes and especially on the point of first encounter, door furniture. On a more personal level Medusa was worn both on cameos and in jewellery in the belief that she would protect the wearer from malevolent forces. This Medusa is carved from red coral. According to early lapidaries Perseus laid the Gorgon’s severed head by a stream and her blood spilled out into the sea where it turned into coral. Coral’s perceived association with Medusa made the material magical. So, here we have a carving of an apotropaic mythical figure, carved from a material that was deemed to be protective. To add to its protective qualities, attached to the brooch are three coral amulets. In the centre is a figa amulet, shaped like a clenched fist and clutching a sword. The figa was an ancient amulet against the evil eye. To either side of the figa are two Horns of Plenty [Cornicello] believed to bring good luck. The brooch measures 2 inches by 1.5 inches. It comes in its original 19th century fitted case. Superb Italian carving, immaculate condition.
Peter Paul Rubens, Head of Medusa, circa 1617-1618, Kunsthistorisches Museum