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Representations of Medea

The portrait of Medea by Evelyn de Morgan that I posted not too long ago got me looking at more representations of Medea. When I was looking at the Evelyn de Morgan painting, I found this comment by Whitney Chadwick from Women, Art, and Society: "Evelyn Pickering de Morgan’s Medea of 1889 replaces conventional male representations of Medea as a cruel temptress and the murderer of her children with an image of a woman skilled in sorcery." While it's true that there are a lot of paintings of Medea either about to kill her children or having just killed her children (or her brother, which is another part of the myth), my take is that representations of Medea as a woman skilled in sorcery are just as conventional. In this group of five paintings, three focus on her sorcery, while a fourth (the Flint) shows her taming the dragon that guards the golden fleece. (Oops, now I see that Turner's painting also depicts the murder of the children.)

The Gustave Moreau painting is striking for its ripe sensuality, which brings out another aspect of the Medea myth: that of the young woman who falls in love with the glamorous hero. Flint's painting is very sensual as well. This sensuality brings up a perhaps more general point, which is how many paintings of classical scenes (although not in this group) feature nudity. I'm sure this is a topic that's been studied to death in the annals of art history, but it's not something I've read a lot about. I've seen so much nudity in fine art that I just accept it. However, as you get closer to the modern era, these mythological paintings start to look more and more like the roots of the artwork that has illustrated the magazines and books of the science fiction and fantasy genres. Suddenly the half-naked women of the pulp magazines start looking like the sirens and nymphs of nineteenth-century classicism. Has anybody written about the roots of genre artwork in this tradition? It's not far from Flint's painting to Frank Schoonover's illustrations for A Princess of Mars from 1917.

Medea - Vision of Medea by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1828
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Vision of Medea (1828)

Medea - Gustave Moreau Jason_et_Médée 1865
Gustave Moreau, Jason and Medea (1865)

Medea by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys 1868
Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, Medea (1868)

Medea - Jason_and_Medea_-_John_William_Waterhouse 1907
John William Waterhouse, Jason and Medea (1907)

medea jason orpheus and the dragon by William Russell Flint 1910
William Russell Flint, Medea, Jason, and Orpheus (1910)

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