Lot 7
  • 7

Lucio Fontana

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
509,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Lucio Fontana
  • Medusa
  • ceramic
  • 59 by 64 by 35 cm. 23 1/4 by 25 1/8 by 13 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 1936.


Galleria Pegaso, Milan

Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1998-99


Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Ill Quadriennale d’Arte Nationale, February – July 1939, p. 141, no. 4, illustrated

Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Fontana, September 1994 – January 1995, p. 61, no. 13, illustrated in colour

Leeds, Henry Moore Institute; Rovereto, MART, Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea, Scultura lingua morta – Dead Language Sculpture – Sculpture from Fascist Italy – Scultura nell’Italia fascista, May – December 2003, p. 39, no. 19, illustrated in colour


Giulia Veronesi, ‘Le ceramiche di Lucio Fontana’, in: Ceramiche e Laterizi, Milan, November 1938, p. 98, illustrated

Raffaele Carrieri, 'Le maioliche geologiche di Lucio Fontana', in: L’Illustrazione Italiana, No. 2, Milan, 8 January 1939, p. 63, illustrated

Giulio Carlo Argan, 'Su alcuni giovani: […] Fontana, Alla II Mostra di Corrente – Dicembre XVIII', in: Le Arti, No. 3, Florence, February – March 1939, no. C, fig. 9, illustrated

Guido Ballo, Lucio Fontana, Turin 1970, p. 71, no. 80, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures et Environments Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 17, no. 36 SC 5, illustrated

Exh. Cat., Munich, Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst; Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, Lucio Fontana, December 1983 – May 1984, p. 42, no. 10, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 1986, p. 68, no. 36 SC 5, illustrated

Ermanno Krumm, 'Un artigiano tutto spazio e cosmo', in: Corriere della Sera, Milan, 6 November 1994, n.p., illustrated

Franco Miracco, 'La vita delle forme e lo spazio degli eventi. Il ritorno a Ferrara di Lucio Fontana', in: Il Manifesto, Rome, 30 December 1994, n.p., illustrated

Angela Vettese, 'I buchi dello scandalo', in: Il Sole-24 Ore, Milan, 2 October 1994, p. 36, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 165, no. 36 SC 5, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Exhibited in the third Rome Quadrennial in 1939 shortly after its execution in 1936, Fontana’s Medusa is a work of remarkable historical and creative value. Whilst the artist is today world renowned for his iconic piercing of the canvas, his artistic genesis is firmly rooted in the medium of sculpture, and it is undeniable that this background proved paramount in articulating his conceptual understanding of space. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, Medusa truly embodies Fontana’s personal attitudes towards art and his refusal to be consigned to any particular artistic style, rendering the present sculpture of utmost significance within the artist’s prolific career.

Following his traditional training as a sculptor, Fontana explored the medium of terracotta and created a series of depictions of the Medusa, a gorgon mythological monster that had inspired visual and literary artists for millenia. The present work is documented in the catalogue raisonné as the first in this series, executed the year that the artist began frequenting the Mazzotti ceramics workshop in Albisola Mare. The mask’s solemn expression bears reference to earlier canonical representations of Medusa, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s seventeenth-century marble bust. However, unlike Bernini’s smooth marble sculpture with its sensual, flesh-like quality, the surface of the present sculpture is rough and uneven – a cavernous landscape that bears the tactile marks of the artist’s laborious kneading. The coarseness of its surface is skilfully juxtaposed with the artist’s measured treatment of the mask’s facial features; the naturalism of the figure is exposed in the easily identifiable eyes, nose and mouth. The mask encompasses a rich mythological narrative, elucidated here through the sunken recesses of the Medusa’s harrowing eyes and the villainous snakes slithering outward into space; the piercing eyes here remind us of the disquieting tale of Medusa, whose lethal gaze could turn a man into stone.

A strong curiosity for abstract reasoning spurred Fontana’s lifelong exploration of the spatial dimensions of art.  Fontana never adhered to a particular style and would constantly pursue both abstraction and figuration, a quality that rendered him unique within the creative climate of Milan in the 1930s. Fontana viewed art as a continuous creative process of permanent intuitive investigation, detaching himself fully from any preconceived ideas about style and manner. Medusa is the result of this unique attitude, as it masterfully presents a tension between abstraction and figuration, “a coexistence between the formless and form, between hard and soft” (Germano Celant, ‘Lucio Fontana: Spatial Environments and Lights’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lucio Fontana: Ambienti Spaziali, 2012, p. 19). The exaggerated alternation between the full and empty spaces of Medusa anticipates Fontana’s highly venerated Concetti Spaziali, where he attempted to transcend the boundaries of the two-dimensional canvas surface. Both the dimension of chance and the violence of the gesture, evident throughout Fontana’s use of ceramics, were to become strong traits of his later works on canvas.