The great heroes and monsters of myth were fertile subjects for artists throughout history. Greek and Roman legends are perhaps depicted more than any other scenes outside Bible tales. Here we present some of the most striking images of dreadful beasts and brave warriors.
Medusa, one of the great monsters of Greek myth, turned anyone who gazed upon her into a stone statue. Perseus, using his shield as a mirror to avoid looking at her directly, succeeded in cutting her head off. This decapitation is captured in all its gruesomeness in this important Caravaggio image, commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and key painting in bringing Caravaggio the notoriety he craved.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Bruegel)
A painting that inspired two great poets, WH Auden and William Carlos Williams, to compose verses celebrating Brueghel’s depiction of Icarus’s fall as an event almost comically unnoticed by the farmers going about their business in the foreground.
St George and the Dragon (Rossetti)
Rossetti’s image of England’s patron saint slaying the mythical dragon was created for a series of six stained glass windows sold by his interiors firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.
How King Arthur Saw the Questing Beast (Beardsley)
Another English legend, beautifully rendered by Beardsley as an utterly absorbing tableau of mythical imagery. This drawing was originally produced for the frontispiece of an 1893 edition of Thomas Malory’s definitive retelling of the Arthurian cycle, Le Morte D’Arthur.
Lady with a Unicorn (Da Vinci)
How do you catch a unicorn? According to Da Vinci, and as this sketch reveals, you use a virgin as bait. “For the love it bears to fair maidens [the unicorn] forgets its ferocity and wildness and laying aside all fear it will go to a seated damsel and sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it,” he wrote.