The holy place of Artemis in Corfu is a famous example of Greek architecture. It to be decorated v a gigantic sculpture of Medusa, who head held unique symbolism in Greek art.

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The Medusa in ~ the holy place of Artemis in Corfu, in the historical Museum that Corfu


The holy place of Artemis in the Greek island of Corfu to be built approximately 580 BCE and also was distinctive in many aspects. It to be the first and largest antiquated temple made of stone. The temple’s grand dimension (ground plan 22.40 x 47.90m, and height at an approximated 6.10 m) for sure provoked the admiration of all worshippers. It was also famous because that the quality of that pedimental gigantic sculpture of the mythical Gorgon Medusa. Read an ext to uncover out what the temple of Artemis has actually in common with Gorgon Medusa’s head. 


The temple Of Artemis



Three-dimensional repair of the holy place of Artemis in Corfu, via Greek set of Culture 


During the archaic period, temples were composed of ample columns carrying a ‘heavy’ pediment. The temple of Artemis did not escape the rule. However, it reached a much more balanced relationship in between its architecture parts. This newfound balance was crucial for the breakthrough of the Doric order in the future.


As currently mentioned, the holy place of Artemis to be the first of its kind made out of stone. This transition from lighter materials, like wood or clay, marked the beginning of a new architectural tradition in Greek architecture. Also, take keep in mind of the clean and straightforward analogies that the entablature (the horizontal part of the holy place that rests on the columns). 


Unfortunately, the eastern pediment of the holy place of Artemis did not survive. Nevertheless, we have the right to admire the reconstructed western one at the historical Museum that Corfu.

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The Pedimental Sculpture


West pediment indigenous the holy place of Artemis in Corfu, in the historical Museum the Corfu, via the Greek ministry of Culture 


The pediment is by much the most famous part of the temple of Artemis. The Medusa – one of the 3 Gorgons, the other two being Stheno and Euryale – shows up in the middle. 


In general, the figures are smaller sized on the edges and grow in size the closer they get to the center. Medusa’s visibility dominates the scene. The monumentality (ca 2.9 meters tall!) that the conception must have actually been a distinct sight because that the time.


Three-dimensional reconstruction of the holy place in color, via Diadrasis: creative & digital productions in ~ the historical Museum that Corfu


Surrounding Medusa are her children. On the ideal is Chrysaor and on she left Pegasus (more on them below). Beside them room two huge felines with frontal heads. ~ above the much sides that the pediment, over there are smaller sculptures of god fighting titans. 

Detail from the pediment of the holy place of Artemis


The standing bearded figure on the appropriate behind the feline is thought to it is in Zeus. The is depicted in 3/4 holding a thunderbolt and also ready come strike his enemy. Us don’t recognize who room the other smaller figures, as there space no definitive aspects proving your identity beyond doubt.


The Medusa

The Medusa in ~ the holy place of Artemis in Corfu, in the archaeological Museum of Corfu


The Medusa is not only the largest of the figures but additionally the most thorough one. She is carved in bold shapes with clear indications for she clothing and also facial attributes. 


The ornamentation is likewise quite impressive. Snakes extend from the Gorgon’s shoulders when others type a belt roughly her waist. There are also indications that wings just like other depictions that Medusa at the time, mainly found in pottery.


Medusa is the uncontested center of attention and the most ‘alive’ of every figures. It virtually looks together if she stretches she head to take a far better look at the worshipper pull close the temple. 


Her legs and also arms are bent in a pinwheel fashion to indicate that the figure is running. This is a typical pose recognized as the Knielaufschema.


The scene illustrated is anachronistic. Medusa’s offspring were not born until after she death however her mother and also children appear alive beside each other. This way we space witnessing different scenes of the legend at once, i beg your pardon is a typical trait in Greek art.


Who was Medusa?

Medusa by Caravaggio, ca. 1597, via Uffizi Galleries, Florence


To better understand what the Medusa intended in antiquity, we have to read the legend of Perseus and also Medusa.


According come Hesiod’s Theogony, Gaia (Earth) provided birth to Pontus (Sea) parthenogenetically. With each other they developed Medusa’s parents, Phorkys and Keto (a word offered to explain sea monster or big sea animals). In turn, they had three daughters well-known as the Gorgons. Of them only Medusa was mortal. Surely this to be the factor Perseus chose to kill her instead of she sisters. 


In the canonical myth, Medusa becomes a monstrous being as a an outcome of divine punishment. When she was still human, Poseidon raped her within Athena’s temple. The Goddess, unable to exact revenge on one immortal for this sacrilege, directed she anger towards the victim. In an alternative version of the story, Athena cursed Medusa ~ she asserted to be much more beautiful 보다 the Goddess. Nevertheless, the punishment stays the same. Medusa becomes a monster v snakes because that hair, a monster therefore hideous that transforms whoever looks in ~ her right into stone.


Perseus beheading the sleeping Medusa, attributed to Polygnotos, ca. 450–40 BCE, via The urban Museum that Art, brand-new York


Medusa’s fatality implicates two figures, the hero Perseus and Athena, that is still not satisfied with the Gorgon’s punishment. The story starts when Polydektes, the king that Seriphos, top Perseus right into promising the Medusa’s head together a wedding gift. 


After many adventures, Perseus lastly finds Medusa resting with she sisters. Draw close silently and with the aid of Athena, he efficiently decapitates the monster. Indigenous the headless human body jumped Medusa’s children; the winged equine Pegasus and also Chrysaor. Later, Pegasus came to be the well known winged steed that the hero Bellerophon rode to slay the monstrous Chimera. Chrysaor is not attributed to anything an especially interesting other than for gift the dad of Geryon. This critical one to be either three-headed or three-bodied, indicating that the number three run in the family’s genetics (remember the Gorgons and also the Graie room all triplets).


Medusa’s Head

Head the Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens, 1617-18, via Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien 


The amazing thing v Medusa’s head is the it maintain its abilities also after death. In differing versions the the myth, Perseus provides it to eliminate his opponents and escape a series of hopeless encounters. 


In the end, the head is provided to Athena who places it on she aegis. That is where it is practically always depicted in ancient art. The goddess of wisdom has triumphed over she sworn enemy and has appropriated her powers.


Coming ago to the Medusa the Corfu, we can note that her head is round yet much an ext elegant 보다 the ones found in pottery of the time. However, it is still no realistically depicted. 


It is clear the the artist had actually the aptitude the mimicking nature. This is apparent in other numbers of the complex. Strange enough, he/she go not select the route of realism as soon as making Medusa’s head. It appears that it have to remain unnatural and dehumanized. Medusa is a beast through powers past those the the human being world and also the sculpture looks for to embody this ideal.


Terracotta kylix: eye-cup (drinking cup), signed through Nikosthenes, ca. 530 B.C., via The metropolitan Museum that Art, brand-new York


Gorgoneion is a ax that describes the Medusa’s head and also face, regularly used as a decorate motif in architecture and art in general. Follow to Stephen Wilk (Medusa: resolving the mystery of the Gorgon, 2000) the Gorgoneia came before the myth. Wilk says that Medusa’s head to be a mask on which later on artists added a body. This method that gorgoneia likewise preceded every depictions that Medusa through a body. To back this claim, Wilk looked, among others, at the temple of Artemis. There, he noticed Medusa’s large, unnatural head placed on a body that might easily belong to an additional figure. 


This representation of the Medusa is definitely intentional and also follows conventions that dictated the monster’s appearance. In the art of the period, it to be not essential to realistically attribute Medusa. What mattered the most was producing a recognizable number with the capability to instantly cause fear. 

Terracotta painted gorgoneion antefix (roof tile), ca. 540 B.C., via The city Museum that Art, brand-new York


Medusa’s symbolism and representation changed only in the Hellenistic period. Then, from a price of horror, she became a symbol of dangerous beauty. This opened up up her artistic representation and permitted for more realistic philosophies to she image. This brand-new imagery make its way to roman art, then to the Renaissance, and also from over there to Hollywood.


The holy place Of Artemis and also The Symbolism that Medusa’s Head 

Central dashboard of a mosaic floor through the head that Medusa photographed by Carole Raddato, 1st-2nd century CE, in the national Museum that Rome, via


The usage of Medusa’s head and also eyes as decorative icons on public and also private architecture plainly illustrates your apotropaic function; I.e. They were there to defend the citizens from evil spirits. 


However, in the case of the temple of Artemis, the Medusa serves something an ext than a straightforward apotropaic function. She is there to awe and also inspire. For the superstitious Greeks, the rigid of the Medusa was always a an effective symbol the terrifying divine power. In former of a gigantic Gorgon staring indigenous the optimal of the holy place of Artemis, the god-fearing worshipper would certainly be “petrified.”


As Osborne (Archaic and also Classical Greek Art, 1998) wrote:

“In this pediment we space not gift told the story the Perseus and the Gorgon, yet presented v the Gorgon’s power: right here again, the worshipper is prepared by architecture sculpture because that the awesome epiphany that the gods.”



Detail from Medusa through Antonio Canova, 1804-06, via The metropolitan Museum that Art, new York


Worth noting is that the Medusa in classical times was also a symbol of the Other. Like many half-man, half-animal beings, she was the various other as found in nature. A prize of the raw force of nature the can conquer us v a simple look. 


Medusa was also the other of a deeply oppressive patriarchal society, a woman. She can even be perceived as the most too much Other of this hierarchal system; a powerful woman, deadly and chaotic. The legend of the Medusa itself is a solid reminder of the irrationality of the divine. A power in former of which the mortal remains completely powerless. Medusa’s punishment forces us to challenge the reality that the organic boundaries, which in Greek mythology stem from divine laws, cannot be overstepped, also unintentionally.



Apollodorus, Biblioteca, publication 2: translated by Frazer, J.G. 1990. Cambridge: Harvard university Press.

Belson, J. 1981. The Gorgoneion in Greek Architecture. Ph.D. Diss., Bryn Mawr College.

Glennon, M. 2000. “Medusa in ancient Greek Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of art History. Brand-new York: The urban Museum the Art. Http://

Leeming, D. 2013. Medusa: In the mirror of Time. London: Reaction Books.

Osborne, R. 1998. Archaic and Classical Greek Art. Oxford: Oxford university Press. 69-85

Ovid, Metamorphoses, publications IV and also V: translated by Pope, A.; Dryden, J.; Garth, S.; Croxall. S.; Addison, J. Et al. 2016. South Carolina: CreateSpace Independent publishing Platform.

Tsiafakis, D. 2004. “ΠΕΛΩΡΑ”: Fabulous Creatures and/or Demons of Death? In Padgett, J.M. The Centaur’s Smile: The Human pet in early on Greek Art. Brand-new Haven and also London: Princeton university Art Museum.

Wilk, S. 2000. Medusa: fixing the mystery of the Gorgon. Oxford: Oxford college Press.

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by Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA history & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a enthusiasm for museums and also heritage and a keen attention in aesthetics and also the agree of classical art. That holds one MSc in Museum researches from the university of Glasgow and also a BA in history and Archaeology from the college of Athens (NKUA). Antonis is a senior staff member at, controlling the Archaeology and Ancient history department. In his spare time, he publishes short articles on his specialty.