Chariot pole finial with the head of Medusa (detail). Roman, Imperial, 1st–2nd century a.d. Bronze, silver, and copper, H. 7 1/4 in. (18.3 cm), W. 7 in. (17.9 cm), D. 4 1/4 in. (10.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.75).

Kiki Karoglou will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, April 25, at 12:15 pm. Her talk is entitled “Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art.”

Early depictions of Medusa—one of the Gorgons of Greek myth whose gaze turned men to stone—show a winged woman with serpents entwined in her hair, bulging eyes, wide grin, protruding tongue, and tusks among other frightening traits. Beginning in the fifth century BC, images of Medusa underwent a gradual transformation from grotesque to beautiful, as she became increasingly anthropomorphic and feminine. A similar shift in representations of other mythical female semi-human beings such as sphinxes, sirens, and the sea monster Scylla occurred at the same time. Believed to have apotropaic powers these hybrid creatures were employed on sepulchral monuments, sacred architecture, military gear, drinking vessels, and the luxury arts. Evolving over time in form and meaning, they continue to resonate today.

The iconographic makeover of these inherently terrifying figures of death and the Underworld was a result of the idealizing humanism of Greek art of the Classical period (ca. 490–323 BC). Classical Greek artists humanized and beautified the most repugnant of all, Medusa. Much like Medusa’s gaze, the power of their art is transformative and enduring.

The connection of beauty with horror, embodied above all in the figure of Medusa, outlived antiquity and has continued to fascinate and inspire artists through the centuries. Medusa became the archetypal “femme fatale,” a conflation of femininity, erotic desire, violence, and death. Along with the beautiful Scylla she foreshadows the conceit of the seductive but threatening female that emerges in the late nineteenth century in reaction to women’s empowerment.

Kiki Karoglou is an Associate Curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a specialist on Ancient Greek art, and her research focuses on sculpture, figure-decorated pottery, ancient Greek myth and religion, and the iconography of ritual.

Recently she collaborated with Carlos Picon and Sean Hemingway on the Met’s landmark international exhibition Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World (April 18–July 17, 2016). She is currently organizing an in-house exhibition entitled Dangerous Beauty; Medusa in Classical Art scheduled for February 5, 2018–January 6, 2019.

Before joining the Metropolitan Museum, she held a Mellon postdoctoral appointment at the University of Toronto and has taught at the University of Toronto, the College of New Jersey, and Princeton University. She has held fellowships and internships at the Getty Research Institute, the American School of Classical Studies, the Princeton Art Museum, and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Karoglou has participated in numerous archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean and has published a book on painted pinakes dedicated in Attic sanctuaries, notably the Athenian Acropolis. She received her BA and MA from Athens University and her PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology from Princeton University.

This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.