Perseus and Medusa by Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini's bronze sculpture of Perseus and Medusa (1545-54), which stands under the left arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi, is one of the most beautiful works of art in Florence.
The statue was commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (r. 1537-74) and unveiled to the public on April 27th 1554.
It illustrates the story of the Greek hero Perseus, who slew the monstrous Gorgon Medusa, whose eyes turned people into stone. Perseus was helped by Zeus (who gave him a type of sword known as a harpe), Hermes (who lent him his winged sandals and winged helmet) and Athena (who gave him a polished shield). Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons' cave, where he came upon Medusa asleep. By viewing her reflection in the shield, he was able to approach safely and cut off her head.
Perseus stands with one foot on his shield and the other on Medusa’s decapitated body. Sword in hand, he triumphantly holds aloft the Gorgon's head for all to see. The locks of Medusa's hair take the form of writhing snakes, symbols of discord, which the duke claimed to have stamped out. Cellini's statue was intended to serve as a public warning to the populace about the perils of dissent.
Each of the four niches in the very ornate marble pedestal contains a bronze statuette. The statuettes depict Zeus, Hermes, Athena, and Danae with the young Perseus, The pedestal and the statuettes have been replaced by copies; the original ensemble can be found in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. The bronze bas-relief beneath the pedestal, also a copy, depicts Perseus Rescuing Andromeda.
Its creator was justly proud of the work and inscribed his name on the band that runs across Perseus' chest: BENVENVTVS CELLINVS CIVIS FLOR FACIEBAT MDLIII (Benvenuto Cellini, citizen of Florence, made this, 1553). Cellini also transformed Perseus' flowing locks, and the back of his winged helmet, into a brilliant self-portrait.