Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gorgon Pediment, Corfu

Gorgon Pediment, c 590 BCE

The Gorgon Pediment from the Temple of Artemis at Corfu, dating to around 590 BCE, is a memorable work. Made of limestone, it represents the Gorgon Medusa, whose look, it says in the myth, will turn us to stone, making this a kind of paradox or ironic reversal. Perhaps the Greek artist enjoyed this sort of thing, which is the sort of thing, I imagine, the Greek artists did enjoy.

There are a great many other images of the Gorgon in Greek art dating from this period and afterwards. Frequently the Gorgon confronts the viewer, implicating the audience in the scene. This is an especially appealing-to me-aspect of her ubiquity.

She is here depicted as running, in the conventional pattern of Archaic Greek art. She is flanked by her two children, Chrysaor and Pegasus. Since these twins were born from the blood spurting from her severed head (Perseus does the deed) the image here is clearly anachronistic; she could not be alive and kicking after the birth of her offspring). She is also flanked by a couple of felines, their heads, like that of the Gorgon, facing us. Her hair is not composed of snakes, as in some versions, but snakes do adorn her gown.

A great number of interpretations have attached to the Gorgon Medusa, perhaps the most celebrated being that of Sigmund Freud.

This is the earliest extant pedimental sculpture of Greek Art, though the Lion's Gate at Mycenae can be thought of as a much earlier example. The pediment, as in our example, is a gable created for the front of a Greek temple by the low-pitched cornice with its three corners, creating a space called the tympanum. Relief sculpture within the tympanum, known as pedimental sculpture, requires a particular design to match the unusual shape-tall in the center and short, though extended, at the edges. Some of the masterpieces of Greek relief sculpture are found on pediments.

Images of the Gorgon abound not only in Greek art but in the art of the west. Two especially compelling examples are from Caravaggio and Rubens.