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Wednesday, April 22 • 3:05pm - 4:05pm
The Headless Venus: A Study of Elihu Vedder’s Medusa Series

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The predominate iconographic depiction of Medusa features her decapitated head affixed to the round shield of Athena or the severed head of Medusa held by Perseus. Her headless body is often not shown, and if shown, the body is depicted discarded at the feet of Perseus. American artist Elihu Vedder breaks from the traditional iconographical representations of Medusa by including and focusing on her nude, headless body in his illustrations, “Perseus and Medusa” (1875) and “The Dead Medusa” (1875). Furthermore, the pose reflects past and contemporaneous representations of Venus, the goddess of erotic love. Through the lens of feminist theory and Classical scholarship this paper will argue that the artist has transferred the desire for Medusa’s head to the desire for her body as exhibited by her sensual pose. The paper will contextualize Medusa within the social functions of mythology; these myths are cautionary tales that establish cultural norms. Likewise, Medusa symbolizes female sexuality and temptation in a patriarchal society, thus the male hero must vanquish her in order to maintain societal power dynamics. In these illustrations, Elihu Vedder inverts the power of the gaze from the agency of Medusa to that of the viewer’s objectification of her sexualized, defeated body. By removing the head, Vedder neutralizes the powerful gaze of Medusa, so the viewer can then safely look upon her body without Medusa looking back.

Wednesday April 22, 2015 3:05pm - 4:05pm PDT
237 Owen Hall