Comparison: Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa

Compare and Contrast ‘Perseus holding the Head of Medusa’ with Parmigianincfs ‘Madonna of the Long Neck Benevuto Cellini’s statue of ‘Perseus holding the Head of Medusa’ (Figure 1) and Parmigianinds painting ‘Madonna of the long neck (Figure 2) are both prime examples of Mannerist art. The Mannerists sought to weave a refined, idealized and graceful visual style with arcane, complicated iconography to create artworks of complexity and elegance.

This essay will discuss hoe both artists differ in technique nd will demonstrate a contrast between the highly political significance of Cellini’s statue and Parmigianinds religious painting. Throughout my discussion I will also explore how both artists comparatively adopt their own ‘maniera’ as they wilfully complicate the narrative of their traditional subjects. The painting and the sculpture focus on the idealization of the human figure, symbolism, explicit and implicit sexual content all to increase the Mannerist complexity of the art.

Ultimately this essay will conclude how both works of art intensify the emotional drama or add literary or isual references so knowledgeable viewers had to work hard to decipher the meaning. Benevuto Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa stands on a square base in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The subject of his work is derived from the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa. The relations of male and female, victorious versus vanquished and oppression versus repression are the fundamental themes of this statue, which at the time of its creation had a deep political meaning.

Parmigianinds oil painting Madonna of the Long Neck dates from 1 535 – 1540 and was commissioned as an altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Parma. The subject of this painting comes from Christianity: Mary holding Christ. The painting has religious significance as it was created for a chapel, evidently dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Although Cellini’s sculpture and Parmigianinds painting were commissioned in different parts of Italy, their different locations remain highly important in their Cellini uses the lost-wax process and treats the act of modelling, and carefully manipulates the soft material into a heroic act.

Perseus steps forwards, his head bowed, right arm flexed, left arm raised with the truncated body of Medusa below him. By sculpting other slim, twisting, and fleshless creatures such as his Narcissus (Figure 3), Cellini follows Michelangelds rendition of the idealized human form and thus uses High Renaissance examples to express his new ideals. The sculpture ‘seems designed to move the fgural members with the greatest conceivable invention’l demonstrating Cellini’s artistic skills in his imaginative development of the sculpture.

Cellini made the conscious decision to work in this medium because by ouring molten metal into the cast, ‘he was vivifying the sculpture with life-giving blood’2. Cole’s suggestion is an example of Cellini’s enthusiastic artistry and his confidence confound in the process of making the sculpture. The smooth casting of Perseus’ face is almost identical to that of Donatello’s bronze David, an evident indication that Cellini was following a canonical Renaissance way to depict the idea of a beautiful face. Medusa’s head is also idealised: her sensuous skin contrasts her snake-like head of hair, thus confusing the narrative of the sculpture.

The rather lithe legant athletic slim form of Perseus corresponds to the dominant aesthetic of the time. According to Charles Avery this elegant effortless poise was the hallmark of Mannerist Art’3, and thus the smoothness of the limbs and Cellini’s fine finishes distinguish his sculpture as a skilled work of Mannerist art. Parmigianino however adopts the oil painting technique for his altarpiece. In preparation for the work Parmigianinds numerous drawings reveal the way in which the altarpiece developed from conventional beginnings to a unique end’. ‘The drawings for the Madonna of he Long Neck represent ‘an exemplary case study of the evolution of the artist’s ideas both with regard to issues of form and content’S. The ‘Study for Madonna of the Long Neck Red Chalk heightened with white’ (Figure 4) is an appropriate example to support this as Parmigianino sketches an almost identical figure of the Madonna with similar gestures. The beginnings of Christ’s form are also obvious: splayed across her lap, his legs become visible. In the painting, the Madonna is larger than life-size in comparison to the attendants to the left of the composition.