For most of my life, ancient mythology has completely fascinated me. There was something about all the characters and stories that appealed deeply to my sense of escapism when I was young, and it stayed with me as I got older. When I hit college, I even switched to Religious Studies from another useless liberal arts major, so I could claim legitimacy for my interests.
So why not use a mythological figure as a source for beauty inspiration?
One thing that’s really cool about myths, particularly more popular Greco-Roman ones, is the variety of representations of them in artwork and popular culture. And one Greek heroine that got a lot of play in Renaissance art is Andromeda, of Andromeda and Perseus fame.
Here’s the story: Andromeda is the daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus, who are king and queen of the kingdom of Aethiopia. Cassiopeia is a bit of a narcissist, and in a not super well thought out moment, she boasts that Andromeda is more beautiful than all of the Nereids, which are gorgeous sea nymphs (think friendly Sirens).
When Poseidon hears about this, he gets upset and, as one would, sends a sea monster to ravage the coasts of Cassiopeia’s kingdom. Cepheus and Cassiopeia are now freaking out because their kingdom is being destroyed, so in time-honored ancient tradition, they consult an oracle. What does the oracle tell them? Well, this being mythological Greece, she says they must sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda, to the sea monster.
To you and I, this might seem a little extreme. It sounds great to Cassiopeia and Cepheus, though, so in fifty shades of NOPE, they strip their only daughter naked, chain her up to some rocks, and wait for the sea monster to eat her.
And then she dies. Just kidding! She’s saved in the nick of time by Perseus, Zeus’s son and a total cutie, who just got back from killing Medusa and wants to keep his monster-slaying streak going. He kills the sea monster, rescues Andromeda, and gives birth to centuries of princess and dragon motifs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scene of Andromeda, naked and chained to the rocks, being rescued by Perseus, became pretty popular to depict in art.
While there’s some variety, the paintings are similar in many regards, even down to Andromeda’s pose. Also, Andromeda starts to get a kind of signature style in her treatment: long, flowing hair, with some kind of headband involved in holding it back a bit.
The painting I settled on to try to really recreate Andromeda in is by Anton Raphael Mengs, painted around 1775.
In Mengs’s painting, Andromeda has a blue ribbon in her auburn hair, but I went for a white ribbon to emulate the amount of contrast. An actual ribbon would likely work best here, but what I used was a gauzy white headband with an attached ribbon, which I tied with a single knot around the base.
Here’s my best imitation of the painting, side by side with the real thing.
I didn’t have any ochre gauze lying around, but I did pull out my gauzy shirt with horses on it in honor of Pegasus, and I tugged it off my shoulder for some near-nude Renaissance realism.
I had a blast doing this and I was really surprised by how much I liked it, even from a mundane and wearable standpoint. I’d like to think Andromeda would approve! And even if she wouldn’t, I’m sure to catch the eye of any wandering son of Zeus coming my way.