In Greek mythology Medea, the beautiful sorceress and daughter of the King of Colchis, fell in love with Jason who came in search of the Golden Fleece. In return for her help to steal it, Jason married her and they had two children, Mermerus and Pheres. After the birth of their children Jason divorces her to marry the Greek princess Glauce. In the background of the painting, the boat of her husband Jason is shown sailing away. Heartbroken and enraged, Medea took revenge by killing Glauce and killing her two children in front of him.

Here in the picture she is shown casting a spell to kill Glauce with a dress which burst into flames. She is also pulling off her necklace made of coral, the stone thought to protect children from evil, as hatred overcomes her maternal instinct. The two copulating toads in the front left of the picture could symbolise her husband’s infidelity.

The picture caused much heated debate when it was rejected from the Royal Academy exhibition in 1968, despite being hailed as a masterpiece by many critics.


  • Title: Medea
  • Creator Lifespan: 1829-05-01 - 1904-06-25
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London
  • Creator Birth Place: Norwich
  • Date: 1866/1868
  • Physical Dimensions: w460 x h610 mm
  • Artist: Frederick Sandys
  • Provenance: Birmingham Museums Trust
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: Birmingham Museums Trust
  • Medium: Oil on panel

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps