Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shelley on Da Vinci's Snake Goddess

In 1782, Leonardo da Vinci's biographer Luigi Lanzi, while making a search for his paintings in the Uffizi, discovered a depiction of Medusa's head, which he erroneously attributed to Leonardo, based on an account by Vasari. As late as 1868, Walter Pater (in The Renaissance) singled out Medusa as one of the most arresting works by Leonardo. In the 20th century, Bernard Berenson and other art critics argued against Leonardo's authorship of the Uffizi painting. It is now believed to be a work of an anonymous Flemish painter, active in the 1600s. However, erroneous the attribution, 
the painting produced Shelley’s memorable poem.

On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery
  by Percy Bysshe Shelley 

It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
  Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine; 
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly;
  Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie
  Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine, 
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath, 
The agonies of anguish and of death.

Yet it is less the horror than the grace 
  Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone;
Whereon the lineaments of that dead face 
  Are graven, till the characters be grown 
Into itself, and thought no more can trace;
  'Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown 
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain,
Which humanize and harmonize the strain.

And from its head as from one body grow,
  As [   ] grass out of a watery rock,
Hairs which are vipers, and they curl and flow 
  And their long tangles in each other lock,
And with unending involutions shew 
  Their mailed radiance, as it were to mock 
The torture and the death within, and saw 
The solid air with many a ragged jaw.

And from a stone beside, a poisonous eft
  Peeps idly into those Gorgonian eyes;
Whilst in the air a ghastly bat, bereft 
  Of sense, has flitted with a mad surprise 
Out of the cave this hideous light had cleft,
  And he comes hastening like a moth that hies
After a taper; and the midnight sky 
Flares, a light more dread than obscurity.

'Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror; 
  For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare 
Kindled by that inextricable error, 35
  Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air 
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror 
  Of all the beauty and the terror there—
A woman's countenance, with serpent locks,
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks.

painters and poets

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