The Head of Medusa
Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1617-1618
In a season that has had lots of mirroring, how interesting that they have chosen a painting of Medusa, the monster destroyed by catching her own reflection in a mirror!
Perseus beheaded her and used her head as a weapon to kill the monster that was going to attack Andromeda but subsequently found it too dangerous to use and gave it up to the goddess Athena instead. She set it on her shield where it became a symbol of divine protection and a ward against evil.
Without reading too deeply into symbolism in the paintings: both Dean and Sam are standing in front of paintings of dead things. Medusa was a bona fide monster, killed by a bona fide hero guided and protected by the gods, in defense of an innocent; the head eventually became a shield instead of a weapon. The critters in the other painting are simply dead, perhaps killed for sport, at best killed for dinner (the birds look pretty tiny but I can’t imagine a cook in the 1600s throwing out meat). The paintings and their associations with Sam and Dean kind of call back to the two halves of the “saving people, hunting things” line, the philosophical divisions between the Men of Letters and the hunters, and maybe to the hippies in “Dog Dean Afternoon” commenting about hunters defining themselves by what they kill.
The connection to Athena might also be a link to the Men of Letters - and maybe to the combination of “brains and brawn” that Sam and Dean were said to represent? Athena was a goddess of wisdom, but also of warfare. The synopsis of both this episode and the next seem to imply that Sam will be getting more involved with the Men of Letters…
As far as the other painting and the symbolism of the birds and rabbits - I’m struck by the lines in the painting pointing at Dean, and him pointing back with the First Blade. Since the creatures are dead, could it be a symbolic “killing” of the hope of redemption symbolized by living birds and rabbits? Also, apparently bigger piles of dead game represented bigger “fleshly lusts” - I’d have to call it a signal of Dean fully embracing his dark side.