Thursday, July 29, 2010

Melusine by Ludwig Michael von Schwanthaler

Photo: 19th century sculpture entitled ‘Melusine’ (1845) by German sculptor Ludwig Michael von Schwanthaler (1802-1848) in the Russell Cotes Museum and Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Dorset, England.

Melusine, or Melusina, is a female spirit of springs and rivers, according to European legends and folklore. Usually she is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down, as a mermaid is featured in paintings and sculptures.

According to one story, Elynas, the King of Albany (old name for Scotland), came across Pressyne, a beautiful lady, while hunting in the forest. He persuaded her to marry him but she agreed on the condition that he must not enter her chamber on when she birthed or bathed her children. She gave birth to the triplets Melusine, Melior and Palatyne. When the King violated the promise, Pressyne left the kingdom with her daughters to the lost Isle of Avalon.

The girls Melusine, Melior and Palatyne grew up in Avalon. On their fifteenth birthday, Melusine asked why they had been taken to Avalon. Upon hearing of their father's broken promise, Melusine wanted to take revenge. She and her sisters captured Elynas and locked him up in a mountain. Pressyne got enraged when she knew what the girls had done and punished them for their disrespect to their father. Melusine was condemned to take the form of a serpent from the waist down every Saturday. In other stories, she takes on the form of a mermaid.

Melusine’s legend is especially connected with the Celtic areas of France, Netherlands and other countries. Sir Walter Scott told a Melusine tale in ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ (1802-1803):

“The reader will find the fairy of Normandy, or Bretagne, adorned with all the splendour of Eastern description. The fairy Melusina, also, who married Guy de Lusignan, Count of Poitou, under condition that he should never attempt to intrude upon her privacy, was of this latter class. She bore the count many children, and erected for him a magnificent castle by her magical art. Their harmony was uninterrupted until the prying husband broke the conditions of their union by concealing himself to behold his wife make use of her enchanted bath. Hardly had Melusina discovered the indiscreet intruder, than, transforming herself into a dragon, she departed with a loud yell of lamentation, and was never again visible to mortal eyes; although, even in the days of Brantome, she was supposed to be the protectress of her descendants, and was heard wailing as she sailed upon the blast round the turrets of the castle of Lusignan the night before it was demolished.”

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