The shield with the head of Medusa by Caravaggio, conserved in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, was commissioned by cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s ambassador to Rome, which he gifted to Grand Duke Ferdinand I de’ Medici in 1598. The work was painted on a large shield made of poplar wood and depicts Medusa, the monster whose hair is made of living snakes. Medusa was able to petrify anyone who looked at her and was defeated by Perseus, who, thanks to Minerva’s help, looked at her reflection in a shield and cut off her head.
Caravaggio depicts the Gorgon at the moment she is killed, with her screaming face, her eyes and mouth wide from fear and surprise and her head gushing with blood.
The choice of how to depict Medusa wasn’t a random one: the Gorgon’s head represents the allegory of wisdom and prudence, two concepts valued by the Medici.