Now, about that being-turned-to-stone…


Cellini's Perseus
Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, Florence, Italy.

In the original ancient Greek mythology, the three Gorgons were daughters of sea monsters. Winged, with snakes for hair, they hated men. One was mortal: Medusa, a beautiful priestess in Athena’s temple. Athena caught her lover Poseidon, the God of the Sea, ravishing Medusa. She cursed the girl, giving her hair of snakes and a face that would turn anyone to stone, including Perseus, the hero she loved. The love was not returned.

Perseus, darling of Athena, was sent to kill Medusa. Like modern hunters he had huge advantages: he was granted invisibility, winged sandals, a good sword and, from Athena, a mirrored shield. By looking into it he sidestepped the stone curse and beheaded Medusa. She was pregnant by Poseidon, and as her head was severed, two magical beings sprang from her body. One was Chrysaor, a golden giant with a sword, and one was the winged horse Pegasus. After that, Perseus got to ride Pegasus, but raped, doomed Medusa did achieve immortality: she decorated shields for thousands of years.

Caravaggio's Medusa
Medusa by Michelangelo Caravaggio, 1597 

As to why she’s upside down and sideways: It may be possible that the Christian cistern-builders wanted to demystify or desanctify the pagan idols. I notice that someone took the trouble to excise whatever was written on the scrolls of the square sections of these pillars. Then again, it might be that they were simply never finished.

Cistern Medusa

The Medusas are all the way at the end of the Cistern and would always have been below the waterline. The sideways one may be resting on a split-off or damaged section, while the famous upside-down one has no irises or nostrils; was she unfinished? There’s another one just like them in the sculpture garden at the Archeological Museum nearby.

Arch Muse Medusa - HEART OF STONE
Sculpture Garden Medusa, Istanbul Archeological Museum

All three Istanbul Medusas look very much like the ones at Aphrodisias, an ancient Roman resort about three hours east of Ephesus. Scholars believe they were created by the same artists. It’s easy to imagine the unfinished blocks with Medusa faces on one side simply included with a shipment of scavenged columns for the Emperor’s new project.

Medusa early and late - HEART OF STONE
Sketchbook from 1999 , sketchbook drawing from 2012 on screen.

Oh, those early drawings!  I remember the amazement and longing to share these wonders with friends back home. It was so beyond my skills. Pulling art for this post, I went into that first book from 1999 and thought, damn, I must have had either overwhelming arrogance or overwhelming faith to base an entire life on what’s in there. I’ve been drawing all my life, but in 1999, 15 years working digitally had atrophied my analog drawing skills, not to mention I’d been drawing mostly out of my head. But I’ve always drawn from life whenever possible, always been seduced away from abstraction by the sheer glory of the way things look really, when you really look.

Medusa One 72
Medusa One ©2012 Trici Venola.

Looked up from the book and here I am in Istanbul with fifteen years of framed art on the walls, a row of sketchbooks four feet wide full of art that has made friends all over the world. I traded a whole life to be able to draw better, and I can. Found myself cackling wildly. You can get very, very good at something if you do it all the time.

Two Carp 72
Two Carp ©2012 Trici Venola

All drawings Plein Air; drafting pens on rag sketchbook paper 52 X 18 cm / 7 X 20 ” All art ©2012 by Trici Venola for The Drawing On Istanbul Project.

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