Wilhelm Trübner (1851 – 1917) was a German realist painter, greatly influenced by fellow artists Gustave Courbet and Wilhelm Leibl.
Trübner returns to Ancient Greece in a modern, realistic way with his 1891 work, A Gorgon’s Head. The gorgons were Ancient Greek winged female creatures with living snakes as hair and protruding tongues. They would transform to stone anyone who looked at their dreadful faces and place the stone statues in front of their cave as a warning.
Among them, the most known today is the only mortal gorgon, Medusa, killed by the demigod Perseus. Her immortal sisters were Stheno and Euryale. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Athena transformed them into terrible monsters after Medusa was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s Temple. Finding no fault in Poseidon, Athena took her rage on Medusa and on her two sisters who were siding with her.
In spite of Trübner’s take on mythology, he doesn’t idealize or use a large-scale scene as the context for his painting. We don’t even see the gorgon’s body nor have any real indication as to which one of the three sisters he depicts. The head is hovering in space with a drowsy, satiated face expression, the snakes on her head hissing ominously. If we stare long enough at her face, we might be turned to stone.