Flemish artist Frans Snyders (1579–1657) specialised in painting wildlife. Best known for his elaborate works depicting hares, partridges and other game laid out on crowded tables and for his hunting scenes where dogs chase deer and wild boar, he also collaborated with other artists. Among them was Peter Paul Rubens.
Medusa. Made a monster by angry Athena. Murdered in her sleep by Perseus, with the help of gods. After death, her body mutilated and her severed head brandished to win squabbles. Then transformed into a talisman, Gorgoneion, worn on Athena’s shield.
The sculptures of Perseus are heroic. The paintings of Medusa are tragic.
Rubens’ Medusa has skin so pale it is almost luminous. In her moment of death, her serpents turn on one another, while new snakes are born from her pooling blood, watery like amniotic fluid.
In myth, Medusa’s serpents are venomous, but the most frequent species depicted by Snyders is the non-venomous Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) with dark body and yellow collar. There is a second species of snake in the painting. This species is more slender than the Grass Snake and has a line below the eye. One of these snakes is biting Medusa’s temple. Another is consuming a Grass Snake. They have been interpreted as Common Adders or Vipers (Vipera berus) but I think they more closely resemble the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). The Smooth Snake preys on other reptiles, holding its prey in its coils. It also retains its eggs inside its body until they hatch.
Other creatures are present: a European Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), two orb-weavers (Araneus, probably A. diadematus), and a scorpion. There is also…