Monday, October 15, 2012

The Pegasus in Art

One of the most famous horses in the world is the mythological winged horse known as Pegasus. From ancient Greece to our modern world, Pegasus has been a creature that has appeared in a multitude of legends, video games, company logos, coins, and more. Naturally, Pegasus has been a common subject of art as well. What are some of the famous pieces of art that depict Pegasus? Let's take a look.

In Greek mythology, Pegasus was a white winged horse that rode the heavens. His parents were Medusa and the sea god Poseidon, who was acting in his role of a horse god. Pegasus was born when Perseus beheaded Medusa. After he was born he ascended to heaven and betrothed himself to Zeus. Everywhere he stepped, Pegasus was said to have created a spring. Pegasus was a friend to the Muses and is said have created the Hippocrene fountain on Mt. Helicon which was so sacred to them. He is also said to have been instructed by Zeus to be a carrier of thunderbolts to Heaven from Mt. Olympus. When captured by the "monster slayer" Bellerophon, Pegasus agreed to take him into battle with the fire-breathing Chimera monster, which he subsequently slew. After Bellerophon fell off the back of Pegasus, Pegasus ascended into the heavens and was turned into the Pegasus star constellation by Zeus.

A Roman mosaic from the 2nd century AD depicting Pegasus. (Michel wal/Wikimedia Commons)

In ancient Greece and Rome, Pegasus appeared in a wide variety of artwork and places. Pegasus motifs (including some depicting Bellerophon and Pegasus battling the Chimera) have been found on ancient Greek and Roman pottery, wall frescoes, statues, adornments, and more. Ancient Greek vases displaying Pegasus have been displayed at museums around the world. Ancient Roman wall frescoes of Pegasus have been uncovered at Pompeii. Pegasus mosaics, such as the one above from Cordoba, Spain, have also been found. Pegasus has also been found etched into the body armor and shields of Roman legionnaires, Roman lamps, coins, and much, much more. Depictions of Pegasus have been found on artifacts as far away as the Parthian culture of northeast Iran!

"Pegasus" by Jan Boeckhorst (1604-1668). (Wikimedia Commons)

During the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance, Pegasus made a huge comeback into European artwork. He was regarded as a symbol of wisdom during the Middle Ages and can be found in illustrations from literature and miniatures of the time. Pegasus was widely painted and sculputed by the great Renaissance artists. Some of these paintings include "Pegasus" by Dutch painter Jan Boeckhorst (right), "Pegasus and the Muses" by Girolamo Romanino (ca. 1484-1559), "Helicon or Minerva's Visit to the Muses" by Joos de Momper (II) (1564-1635), "Perseus and Andromeda" by Peter Paul Reubens (1577-1640), and "Four Muses" by Caesar van Everdingen (1616/17-1678). Sculptures of Pegasus from the time can be found all across western Europe.

During the Renaissance, Bellerophon was replaced with Perseus as the rider of Pegasus. Perseus was much more familiar and popular to the Renaissance audience. Ever since, Perseus has been associated with Pegasus in art and poetry.

"Muse on Pegasus" by Odilon Redon (1840-1916). (Visipix.com)

During the 19th century and early 20th centuries, artists continued to depict Pegasus in their paintings. One 19th century artist who painted Pegasus was the British artist Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). He made two paintings of Pegasus: "Pegasus and Andromeda" (1891), and "Perseus on Pegasus Hastening to the Rescue of Andromeda" (1895-96). Many of Leighton's paintings were mythology-themed, including these. Also during the 19th century, Pegasus was painted by some of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, including French Symbolist painter Odilon Redon's paintings of Pegasus (see right) and fellow Symbolist Gustave Moreau's (1826-1898) 1868 painting " Le Po├Ęte voyageur", or "The Travelling Poet" in English. Redon's painting was a very colorful and heavenly depiction of Pegasus. In contrast, Moreau's painting is a very dark, broody, and atmospheric depiction of Pegasus. 

In our own time, Pegasus has been depicted countless times in countless ways. Pegasus is the logo of the Poetry Foundation and, appropriately enough, Turkish Pegasus Airlines. It's also the flying horse in the Tri-Star Pictures logo, the mascot of the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, KY, the inspiration behind (and a line of) "My Little Pony", and has made appearances in at least two Disney movies: "Fantasia" and "Hercules"! In art, Pegasus has been painted many times over the years by a number of artists, professional and amateur alike. He is a symbol that has persisted over the centuries and most likely will remain in art for many more centuries to come!  


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