42 3/8 x 16 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Gift of Kennedy Galleries
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Throughout the ages, artists have looked to ancient Greek mythology as a source of fascination, inspiration, and moral teaching. One of the most gripping myths is that of Medea, the key figure in the tale of the Argonauts who, under the command of Jason, sailed from Greece to Colchis, a distant land on the Black Sea, in quest of the Golden Fleece.
According to legend, Jason did succeed in his mission, but only with the magic help of Medea, daughter of the King of Colchis, who fell in love with Jason. After capturing the Golden Fleece, Jason and Medea fled to Greece. By then they were married and had two children. However, soon after returning to Greece, Jason deserted Medea and married a young princess. In revenge, Medea, through her powers of sorcery, murdered Jason’s bride and, in a state of desperation and madness, killed her own two children in order to render Jason childless.
This myth has been interpreted in numerous ways over the centuries. It is often thought to speak of the humiliatingly inferior social state to which women have traditionally been subjected. More specifically, Medea is the image of the troubled soul in deep emotional conflict who, in her desperation and painful jealousy, destroys her rational being. Indeed, she epitomizes the tragic state to which intense jealousy can lead.
Both in ancient vase painting and in fresco, the tragic moment when Medea prepared to murder her own children appears frequently. That moment has been captured in a most compelling form in the monumental three-and-a-half-foot high bronze executed in 1980 by the eminent contemporary American artist Leonard Baskin.
Baskin’s Medea stands boldly with her arms held firmly behind her as if bound together. Outwardly she is calm and seemingly in deep meditation. Yet in her right hand she fiercely clutches a dagger while the fingers of her left hand are outstretched and stiff as if paralyzed. The slight twist of her head, the tightly drawn lips and the deeply sunken eyes suggest conflict and inner torment. Anxiety is further suggested by the nervously trembling movement of drapery folds, most particularly along the sleeves that cover her strong arms and conceal the murder weapon she is about to use. Thus, this work is testimony to Baskin’s command of technique and formal usage and, at the same time, a convincing visual statement of his depth of understanding of the human situation.
Leonard Baskin was born in 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He studied art at New York University, Yale University, the New School for Social Research in New York City and later in France and Italy. He achieved international fame as a sculptor, painter, and printmaker.