An ancient mith
of life and protection

The Coral
Portinari

An ancient mith
of life and protection

The Coral
Portinari

Head of Medusa, Archaeological Museum of Naples - Carlo Raso Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Head of Medusa
Archaeological Museum of Naples
Carlo Raso
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The origins of coral

The ancient history of the Greek myth of Medusa

Coral has taken on multiple and profound meanings in the imagination of many cultures, starting with Greek mythology. Being able to describe them all deserves a publication, not a simple article, but I will try to tell you all the aspects that have struck and excited me since I started studying and working coral.

HIDDEN
read more...

Ovid tells that Medusa was originally a beautiful girl with magnificent hair, kidnapped and raped by Poseidon, overwhelmed by her beauty, turned into an eagle and kidnapped her, taking her to the temple of Athena where he abused her. The goddess, outraged by the rape that took place in her consecrated place, covered her face with her shield and transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair into poisonous snakes, giving her the power to petrify anyone just by looking at it. Medusa was transformed into an invincible Gorgon, which only Perseus managed to kill, always with the help of Athena who had given him a reflective bronze shield to accomplish the feat.

Giorgio Vasari
Perseo and Andromeda
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The coral was born from the severed head of the Gorgon when Perseus, to rinse his hands, placed it on the sea beach wrapped in algae and rushes, so as not to spoil it in contact with the sand. In contact with Medusa’s blood, the algae petrified and took on a red color. The sea nymphs ran and continued the game amused, accumulating more twigs on the head to make them petrify, thus scattering the coral seeds in the water.
With the head of Medusa, which he carried with him closed in a sack, Perseus then defeated many enemies. At the end of the Perseus epic, the Gorgon ended up on the aegis of Athena, somehow returning from where she was born and closing the circle.
It was Athena who transformed her, it was finally Athena who always kept her with her on her aegis, depicted in various versions: a short breastplate with fringes, or a shield with magical powers. Medusa’s head stood out in the center, surrounded by Fight, Fear, Strength and Pursuit. Some of the magical snakes on his head were given to Hercules by Athena herself.
At the end of her story of blood and violence, Medusa therefore assumed an apotropaic and protective power in the myth and in the collective imagination.

HIDDEN
read more...

Blood, somehow redeemed and washed, is life, not death, and Medusa petrifies enemies by reflecting their image, no longer fearing them.
The image of the Gorgon’s head has been widely depicted over the centuries precisely because of the power attributed to it: not only on shields and weapons, but also in jewelry, furnishing objects, architectural elements.
In parallel, the myth, present in many peoples and cultures, has established itself which considers coral, even more so if combined with the image of Medusa, a vital, positive and strongly protective element.
Coral comes from the depths of the sea, and hardens in contact with the air. It belongs to all four elements: water, air, earth, fire.
The earth is where the head of Medusa was placed, the fire is the blood, the life that flows, as from open veins.
Coral also belongs to thethree great kingdoms of the natural world, without being relegated to any of them: animal, vegetable, mineral. It was born in the depths of the sea, to emerge on the surface, as in the “ascents” from the underworld and from the kingdom of the dead which represent another archetype present in all cultures.

Hugo van der Goes
Triptych Portinari
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Piero della Francesca
Madonna di Senigallia
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrea Mantegna
Madonna of the Victory
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Domenico Ghirlandaio
Giovanna Tornabuoni
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance it had become customary for babies to wear pendants made of coral twigs. Thinking that it had a strong healing power, the powder was administered for the prevention and treatment of epileptic seizures, nightmares and teething pains of children.
In the era of the Counter-Reformation, the Christian tradition handed down not so much the image of the decapitated head of Medusa, as the element of coral, in its meaning of Life, regeneration, protection from evil, especially in the moment of childhood, as in the Madonna di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca and in the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Ghirlandaio.
Coral was considered protective against sudden infant deaths and generally a protective of motherhood.
We also find coral in many devotional representations and in the altarpieces.
In the Altarpiece of the Victory by Mantegna a large coral branch is suspended by strings of pearls, crystals and corals above the throne where the Virgin and Child are seated. In the Portinari Triptych by Hugo Van Der Goes, (1477-78) one of the angels depicted at the foot of the Annunciation wears a coral diadem, to express the angelic protection of the Child Jesus.

HIDDEN
read more...

In the Baroque and Mannerist period, coral once again recovers its link with the mythological subject of Perseus and Medusa, with all the arcane, almost alchemical, value of the metamorphosis it underwent and of the coexistence in it of the three vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms.
This is testified by numerous pieces of sculptural virtuosity present in the Wunderkammer, or rather in the “chambers of marvelous curiosities”, of the European rulers.
In the Baroque the “Wonder” represents the amazement of man who, no longer at the center of creation, moves away from the scene and becomes the spectator of an enigmatic, magical and multifaceted spectacle, which is none other than nature that shows itself and transforms itself under his eyes in the most varied and unexpected aspects.
Coral is perhaps the main element of the Baroque Wonder, with its enigmatic, multiform nature and all its mysterious meanings.

Piero della Francesca
Madonna di Senigallia
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“From the earliest origins,coral exerts a strong protection from negative influences,
and represents the force of good that always manages to prevail over adversity.
In homage to all this, my Corallo Portinari.

The origins of coral

The ancient history of the Greek myth of Medusa

Coral has taken on multiple and profound meanings in the imagination of many cultures, starting with Greek mythology. Being able to describe them all deserves a publication, not a simple article, but I will try to tell you all the aspects that have struck and excited me since I started studying and working coral.

Its color and folding fan-shaped appearance can remind you of a rush of blood. Not surprisingly, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, coral is born from the contact of algae and twigs with the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa.

HIDDEN
read more...

Ovid tells that Medusa was originally a beautiful girl with magnificent hair, she was kidnapped and raped by Poseidon, who overwhelmed by her beauty, turned into an eagle and kidnapped her, taking her to the temple of Athena where he abused her. The goddess, outraged by the rape that took place in her consecrated place, covered her face with her shield and transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair into poisonous snakes, giving her the power to petrify anyone just by looking at it. Medusa was transformed into an invincible Gorgon, which only Perseus managed to kill, always with the help of Athena who had given him a reflective bronze shield to accomplish the feat.

The coral was born from the severed head of the Gorgon when Perseus, to rinse his hands, placed it on the beach wrapped in seaweed and rushes, so as not to spoil it. In contact with Medusa’s blood, the algae petrified and took on a red color. The sea nymphs ran and continued the game amused, accumulating more twigs on the head to make them petrify, thus scattering the coral seeds in the water.
With the head of Medusa, which he carried with him closed in a sack, Perseus then defeated many enemies. At the end of the Perseus epic, the Gorgon ended up on the aegis of Athena, somehow returning from where she was born and closing the circle.

It was Athena who transformed her, it was finally Athena who always kept her with her on her aegis, depicted in various versions: a short breastplate with fringes, or a shield with magical powers. Medusa’s head stood out in the center, surrounded by Fight, Fear, Strength and Pursuit. Some of the magical snakes on his head were given to Hercules by Athena herself.
At the end of her story of blood and violence, Medusa therefore assumed an apotropaic and protective power in the myth and in the collective imagination.

Giorgio Vasari, Perseus and Andromeda
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

HIDDEN
read more...

Blood, somehow redeemed and washed, is life, not death, and Medusa petrifies enemies by reflecting their image, no longer fearing them.
The image of the Gorgon’s head has been widely depicted over the centuries precisely because of the power attributed to it: not only on shields and weapons, but also in jewelry, furnishing objects, architectural elements.
In parallel, the myth, present in many peoples and cultures, has established itself which considers coral, even more so if combined with the image of Medusa, a vital, positive and strongly protective element.
Coral comes from the depths of the sea, and hardens in contact with the air. It belongs to all four elements: water, air, earth, fire.
The earth is where the head of Medusa was placed, the fire is the blood, the life that flows, as from open veins.
Coral also belongs to thethree great kingdoms of the natural world, without being relegated to any of them: animal, vegetable, mineral. It was born in the depths of the sea, to emerge on the surface, as in the “ascents” from the underworld and from the kingdom of the dead which represent another archetype present in all cultures.

Hugo van der Goes, Trittico Portinari
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Piero della Francesca, Madonna di Senigallia,
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrea Mantegna, Madonna della Vittoria
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Giovanna Tornabuoni
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance it had become customary for babies to wear pendants made of coral twigs. Thinking that it had a strong healing power, the powder was administered for the prevention and treatment of epileptic seizures, nightmares and teething pains of children.
In the era of the Counter-Reformation, the Christian tradition handed down not so much the image of the decapitated head of Medusa, as the element of coral, in its meaning of Life, regeneration, protection from evil, especially in the moment of childhood, as in the Madonna di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca and in the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Ghirlandaio.

Coral was considered protective against sudden infant deaths and generally a protective of motherhood.
We also find coral in many devotional representations and in the altarpieces.
In the Altarpiece of the Victory by Mantegna a large coral branch is suspended by strings of pearls, crystals and corals above the throne where the Virgin and Child are seated. In the Portinari Triptych by Hugo Van Der Goes, (1477-78) one of the angels depicted at the foot of the Annunciation wears a coral diadem, to express the angelic protection of the Child Jesus.

HIDDEN
read more...

In the Baroque and Mannerist period, coral once again recovers its link with the mythological subject of Perseus and Medusa, with all the arcane, almost alchemical, value of the metamorphosis it underwent and of the coexistence in it of the three vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms.
This is testified by numerous pieces of sculptural virtuosity present in the Wunderkammer, or rather in the “chambers of marvelous curiosities”, of the European rulers.
In the Baroque the “Wonder” represents the amazement of man who, no longer at the center of creation, moves away from the scene and becomes the spectator of an enigmatic, magical and multifaceted spectacle, which is none other than nature that shows itself and transforms itself under his eyes in the most varied and unexpected aspects.
Coral is perhaps the main element of the Baroque Wonder, with its enigmatic, multiform nature and all its mysterious meanings.

“From the earliest origins,coral exerts a strong protection from negative influences,
and represents the force of good that always manages to prevail over adversity.
In homage to all this, my Corallo Portinari.