Medusa, probably one of Caravaggio’s most powerful paintings, painted on a shield, circa 1570 – 1610. Uffizi, Florence.
“The familiar tale of the Medusa – one of the three gorgons who was slain by Perseus and whose head (even after decapitation) was able to petrify the onlooker – is immediately appropriate to any description of the potentially transgressive gaze of the subject who studies his or her own bodily interior. Perseus could not look directly at the face of his adversary and so stared into the reflection found in the polished shield given to by the Medusa’s sworn enemy, Athene […] in the image of Medusa is the archetypal expression of body-fear, and one that seems to be linked to ideas about gender rather than a common identity which transcends sexual difference” (Sawday p. 8-9)
Sigmund Freud wrote an intriguingly short essay on the Medusa’s head in 1922. He argues that the myth is about male anxiety about female genitalia, whilst Écriture Féminine was crystallised by Hélene Cixous in her pioneering essay The Laugh of the Medusa.