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Art / Circe Invidiosa

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"And Circe now contaminates this bay,
polluting it with noxious poisons; there
she scatters venom drawn from dreadful roots
and, three-times-nine times, murmurs an obscure
and tangled maze of words, a labyrinth—
the magic chant that issues from her lips.
Then Scylla comes; no sooner has she plunged
waist-deep into the water than she sees,
around her hips, the horrid barking shapes."

Circe Invidiosa ("Jealous Circe") is an oil painting by John William Waterhouse. It was completed in 1892 and done in the Pre-Raphaelite style.

The painting draws from a story from Classical Mythology. The sorceress Circe has fallen for the sea-god Glaucus, who does not return her affections and loves the beautiful nymph Scylla instead. In her jealousy, Circe poisons the water Scylla lives in, turning her into a terrible monster.

The painting is Waterhouse's second depiction of Circe, after 1891's Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses. He would paint the character again in The Sorceress, completed in 1915. It is primarily housed in the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.

Tropes in this painting:

  • Forced Transformation: Scylla's transformation is unwilling since all the girl did was have Glaucus fall in love with her. She gets turned into a Sea Monster by Circe for it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The painting's title literally means "Jealous Circe". It depicts the moment in The Metamorphoses where Circe, jealous of Glaucus's love for Scylla, poisons Scylla's home and turns her into the mythical sea monster.
  • Magical Barefooter: Circe is conducting her magical poisoning barefoot.
  • Magic Potion: Circe put together a potion that she pours into the water, transforming Scylla into a monster.
  • Poison Is Evil: Poisoning her love rival and turning her into a monster in the process doesn't exactly make Circe look like a saint here...
  • Protagonist Title: The title features Circe's name on it and she's the main focus of the painting.
  • Sea Monster: Scylla is a mythical sea monster; this painting sees her mid-transformation to one, with a fish-like head and other aquatic features glimpsed beneath the water.
  • Scenery Censor: Circe's bare breast is covered by the glass bowl she's holding.
  • Technicolor Toxin: In contrast to the pure blue of Scylla's home, the poison Circe pours into it is bright green. It's got a double meaning since she's poisoning Scylla out of envy.
  • Tentacled Terror: Implied Trope — we don't see the extent of Scylla's transformation into a sea monster, but we do see tentacles and fins beneath the surface.
  • True Blue Femininity: A color scheme that permeates a painting telling the story of a woman's jealousy. The enchantress Circe is wearing a blue dress, standing over a blue pool, and her love rival is also turning into a blue monster.
  • Walk on Water: Circe, by virtue of being a sorceress, stands on the ocean water as if it were solid. This allows her not to get tainted by the poison she's pouring.
  • Water Is Blue: The waters Scylla lives in are a notable blue, in contrast to the green poison Circe is pouring into it.
  • Water Is Womanly: Water is heavily associated with Scylla, the girl Circe is turning into a Sea Monster out of jealousy. Circe herself is dripping liquid poison on the water and is wearing blue in a painting where Water Is Blue and feminity is represented with that color.