DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI PRB (1828-1882) Biography
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Aspecta Medusa (England, 1867)

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Coloured chalks on paper
Signed with monogram and dated 1867 on the upper right


56.00cm high
52.00cm wide
(22.05 inches high)
(20.47 inches wide)
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Frederick Leyland
Leyland's sale, Christie's 28 May 1892, lot 17 (56gns to McLean)
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, 27 April 1966, lot 235 (£180 to David Hughes)
Stone Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
L.S. Lowry, RA


Marillier, H.C., Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorail of his Art and Life, 1899, under number 172
Rossetti, William Michael, ed., Rossetti Papers 1862-70, 1903, page 244;
Surtees, Virginia, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Paintings and Drawings, 1971, Vol. I, catalogue number 183E, page 107

Exhibition History

Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, Pictures, Drawings, Designs and Studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1883, number 57

Description / Expertise

In Greek mythology Medusa was the monstrous daughter of a sea god. Her appearance was horrific; her hair consisted of waving snakes and she was capable of reducing people to stone by looking at them. She was loved by Poseidon with whom she lived in the mythic west. However Perseus came in search of her and slew her. At the moment of her death she gave birth to Pegasus and Chrysaor. The blood from her body was taken by Asclepius; blood from one vein was capable of reviving the dead, whereas that from another served as a lethal dose.

In the history of art the subject of Perseus slaying Medusa is often taken, and the single head of Medusa is also portrayed. From an early time Medusa was represented as a beautiful girl, if with horrible attributes, in contradiction of the accounts of her exceeding ugliness in Greek Mythology.

Rossetti wrote poetry, which took as its theme Perseus’s treatment of the Medusa:

‘Andromeda, by Perseus saved and wed,
Hankered each day to see the Gorgon’s head:
Till o’er fount he held it, bade her lean,
And mirrored in the wave was safely seen
That death she lived by.
Let not thine eyes know
Any forbidden thing itself, although
It once should save as well as kill; but be
Its shadow upon life enough for thee.’

Virginia Surtees has given an account of the commissioning of this subject, as an oil painting, by C.P. Mathews, in 1867. Mathews was to pay 1500 guineas for the work but in the event rejected the final design on the grounds that he disliked the severed head. The present drawing is a version of the drawing shown to C. P. Mathews, which is in the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery.