In 1905, John William Waterhouse portrayed a character from ancient Greek mythology in the artwork entitled Lamia. According to the myth, Lamia was having an affair with the God of the thunder and the sky, Zeus, and she was punished by his wife, Hera, when she became aware. After destroying her children, Hera transformed Lamia into a monster with a hunger for devouring kids. She also could not ever sleep, so to stay consistently in anguish. Zeus wanted to help his lover, and the only way he found was to give her the ability to take out her own eyes and not see her own atrocities.
The character of Lamis became more popular in storytelling, and her image was usually associated with the snake. In fact, Dio Chrysostom wrote the Libyan myth in which he describes a creature that is part-woman and part-snake. In the painting Lamia, the protagonist is seen on her knees with a serpent wrapped around her legs. The painting is dark and eery. Even though the woman’s image is angelical and beautiful, the reptile by her feet shows her true intentions of satisfying her sexual needs and feeding on their flesh when she is done.
On a long vertical canvas, Waterhouse depicted the moment in which Lamia enchants a young knight. Her figure is to the bottom left of the composition and illuminated with a bright light. Her fixed glare at the man brings the viewer’s eyes to the top right – creating a diagonal line across the painting. The model is wearing a light pink flowing dress with violet circles and features red-brown hair tied in a bun. The snake on the ground and her legs, can be confused with a scarf or even with the vegetation that grows over a large stone.
The knight is sitting on the rock, and his armor creates a beautiful reflex of light. He looks down at Lamia as she touches her arm, in an almost hypnotic state. Waterhouse painted a deep, dark background in which emphasizes both figures – especially Lamia. The scene compels the spectator to interpret the true intentions of this beautiful Greek Goddess with the unexpecting young knight. As an artist of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Waterhouse had a great interest in Arthurian legends as well as Greek mythology, and he was able to blend both in Lamia.
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