Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda

Read artist, poet, and founder of Mother Mercy Johnette Marie Ellis’s lyrical, thought-provoking response to Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda.

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As part of the interpretation process for the exhibition Titian: Women, Myth & Power, the Gardner Museum worked with six collaborators who brought their individual perspectives to this exhibition. Each person chose a different Titian painting, crafted a response, and recorded their contribution. Those audio recordings are available both in the exhibition gallery and online. One of our authors, artist, poet, and founder of Mother Mercy, Johnette Marie Ellis, shares her response to Perseus and Andromeda.

Perseus and Andromeda by Titian.

Titian (Italian, 1488–1576), Perseus and Andromeda, about 1554–1556. Oil on canvas
The Wallace Collection, London (P11) Photo: Wallace Collection, London, UK/Bridgeman Images. See it in the special exhibition “Titian: Women, Myth & Power,” August 12, 2021 - January 2, 2022.

If I may be two beings at once, 

if I may be a galaxy of a woman.

If I may:

I’d like to ask about what got us here, about how I, a daughter of Ethiopia, comes to be rescued by a semblance of a man of greece; about how my rescue comes with the slaying of a so called monster with a so called magic knife, that beheaded a woman that could have been my sister—who is my sister in my mind's eye.

I’d like to ask about the lessons of arrogance and vanity, about their purpose in positioning me chained by my right leg to a rock by the sea; about the sins of mothers and fathers and how daughters seem to be the ones that get sacrificed, although we were only taught of the sacrifice of sons. 

If I may be two beings at once—if I am indeed a galaxy of a woman, let me gift the demigod with more than one side. Let me say the monster sent to kill me ain’t too different than the monster who sent himself to save me. 

I know you and how you do. You clumsy jewelers, falling over yourselves with bedazzled shields in hand—stringing together victories of your destruction. From this view you look merely like a fool. I must muse: if I refused your hand would I too be turned into stone?

I’d like to ask about the charm of helplessness, about your insistence on my naked body while yours be clothed...about access and all that has been assembled to ensure yours. About how even in myth, you must make me as bland and white as your own. 

So let me be the one this time to say, you’re all the same, whether as painter or Perseus, unimaginative and cruel. Still here I am, the grand and beautiful Andromeda, contained in my own galaxy—still, stuck in the sky with the likes of you.

*Follow Johnette Marie Ellis on social media @jme.iii and @seemothermercy. 

**This post is taken from the text of our online Gallery Guide.

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