Head of Medusa
ca. A.D. 175-225
58.2 x 57.5 cm
This dramatic medallion with the head of Medusa formed the center of a mosaic from the Roman Town of Canania, now Alcolea del Rio, about eleven miles from Carmona (Seville). According to Bonsor, who excavated it ca. 1901, the corners of this mosaic floor were filled with four tritons, three of which are in the Hispanic Society collection. The motif of the head of Medusa appears frequently in other Roman mosaics from Spain, including Carmona, Córdoba, Mérida, and Tarragona, the last one being perhaps the most famous of these.
The mosaic in the Hispanic Society is impressive for its vivid rendering of this figure from Greek mythology. One of the three Gorgons, Medusa had snakes for hair and eyes that turned the beholder into stone. Even after Perseus beheaded her (with the help of the goddess Athena and a mirror), her head retained its fearful power, and thus, representations of Medusa's head served as protective talismans. Although it is not known in which room this mosaic was found in its original setting, examples from outside of Spain suggest that such images usually appeared in reception halls, as if to repel evil from entering the house.
Text and images © Hispanic Society of America.