John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, “Sketch for Perseus on Pegasus Slaying Medusa”, 1922-1924, Oil and Graphite on Canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In one version of the birth of Pegasus, the flying horse, it states the horse was miraculously formed when the blood of Medusa’s severed head poured onto the foaming sea, and out of this foam it came. Another version said the horse came out of the slain body of Medusa and upon the horse was a warrior called Chrysaor, born carrying a golden sword.  The Pegasus story states that Perseus gave the head of Medusa to the goddess Athena in gratitude for her help and in reprisal for what Medusa had done to Athena’s temple.

In Sargent’s depiction, he seems to combine the elements of the entire story: the slaying of Medusa, the birth of Pegasus, and the presenting of Medusa’s head to Athena all in one. He also, very cleverly, has kept faithful to the constellation of Pegasus, the stars in the sky aligned correctly to the position of Pegasus in his sketch.

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