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Medusa often appears at the crossroads of nihilism and scientific determinism: an outwardly beautiful apparition that hides a monstrous Gorgon within.

May 14, 2014, 04.00 AM IST
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By Vithal C Nadkarni

A bronze statue of Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa is at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Museum. It’s a cultural ambassador from Florence to Maximum City: a “travelling” miniature of Benvenuto Cellini’s celebrated statue that stands permanently in the Italian city’s main plaza alongside another towering cultural icon, namely, the marble statue of David.

Michelangelo sculpted the Goliath-slayer from an allegedly deeply-flawed block. When the Pope asked the sculptor for the secret of his success, the Master said he’d merely taken away the superfluous stuff to unfree his vision from the stone! Cellini deliberately chose bronze to compete against such apocryphal stories.

For one, bronze hadn’t been used for monumental sculpture for more than half-century.

So, by pouring molten metal into his cast, Cellini made the artistic statement that he was revivifying sculpture itself with life-giving blood (in contrast to “corpse-cold” marble)! The artist’s choice of theme of Medusa’s decapitation was also laden with symbolism.

Medusa often appears at the crossroads of nihilism and scientific determinism: an outwardly beautiful apparition that hides a monstrous Gorgon within. Like the Yakshi of Buddhist Jatakas, she seduces unwary suitors only to lead them to their death. Those who look into her eyes with yearning are condemned to turn into stone; to suffer stasis and eternal thirst. Cellini’s bronze was, thus, a pun that packed a moralist punch: avoid looking directly into the eyes of depressing reality: it’s not meaningless as Nihilists want you to believe! Satyamis Shivam!

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