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“[T]he mere knowledge that such a work could be created and still exists in the world makes me feel twice the person I was … If I can get hold of a good cast of this Medusa, I shall bring it back with me…”—Goethe, Italian Journey
This is my laser scan of the Skulpturhalle Basel’s plaster cast of the Munich Glyptothek’s Medusa Rondanini, possibly a fifth-century BC work, and the oldest-known “beautiful gorgoneion” sculpture. The design may have been copied from a guilded bronze aegis that once hung in the Acropolis, where it would have been meant to ward off evil and bad luck.
A revision of the grotesque, disk-shaped death masks of older gorgoneia, the Medusa Rondanini appears to borrow the idealized likeness of Athena of Velletri, wreathed in decorative snakes and delicate owl wings—Chthonic dread and death mixed with Olympian beauty and cunning.
While on display in the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome, it was noticed and first brought to the attention of Northern European art connoisseurs in the 1780s by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote, “I would say something about it if everything one could say about such a work were not a waste of breath.”