Benvenuto Cellini, 1545-1554
Perseus with the Head of Medusa is a bronze sculpture made by Benvenuto Cellini in 1545. The
sculpture stands upon on a square base with bronze relief panels
depicting the story of Perseus and Andromeda, similar to a predella on
an altarpiece. It is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza
della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The second Florentine duke, Duke
Cosimo I de’ Medici, commissioned the work with specific political
connections to the other sculptural works in the piazza. When the
piece was revealed to the public on 27 April 1554, Michelangelo’s
David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and
Holofernes were already erected in the piazza.
The subject matter of the work is the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa with her snakey head in his raised hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture and Medusa’s head turns men to stone and is appropriately surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune. Cellini breathed new life into the piazza visitor through his new use of bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa and the motifs he used to respond to the previous sculpture in the piazza. If one examines the sculpture from the back, you can see the self-image of the sculptor Cellini on the backside of Perseus' helmet.
The sculpture is thought to be the first statue since the classical age where the base included a figurative sculpture forming an integral part of the work.