Head of Medusa

about 1894
Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827–1901)

Object Place: Europe, Switzerland


Other (Overall): 61cm (24in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Plaster and Papier mache (?), polychrome

Not On View





Papier mache (?) and plaster. Open mouthed head with coppery locks and snakes issuing from domed black medallion with molded and gilt rim (worn and broken showing plaster at top.)

Medusa was a mythological, snake-haired creature whose gaze could turn men to stone. The Greek hero Perseus avoided this fate by holding up his highly polished shield to capture Medusa’s reflection. Protected in this way, he beheaded her. The image of the head of Medusa was believed to ward off evil, and it was often used to decorate shields and breastplates. This rare example of a sculpture by the painter Böcklin presents a terrifying vision of Medusa with staring eyes, open mouth, and a wreath of snakes around her head.


Possibly from the artist to August Rubel, Zurich [see note 1]; by descent to his son Dr. Edward Rubel, Zurich; by 1954, by descent to his nephew Charles Adrian Rubel, Brookline, MA; 1978, bequest of Charles Adrian Rubel to the MFA. (Accession date: December 13, 1978)

[1] See excerpt of 1954 letter from Dr. Edward Rubel, which mentions meeting Böcklin in 1893 and the later delivery of the sculpture to the Rubel house, and 1955 letter from Charles Adrian Rubel, in which he states that the sculpture once belonged to his grandfather, both in curatorial file.

Credit Line

Bequest of the Estate of Mr. C. Adrian Rübel