Vincenzo Gemito was essentially self-taught. Discovered on the foundling hospital's doorstep and adopted by a poor artisan, Gemito got work in a sculptor's studio when he was nine years old. He ultimately worked for two local artists, but neither seems to have had much stylistic influence on him. By age sixteen, Gemito had sold a statue to the city of Naples. His realistic representations of Neapolitan street life marked a dramatic shift from earlier artists' sentimentalizing.
Gemito's Neapolitan Fisherboy at the 1877 Paris Salon brought him acclaim and commissions, and he stayed for three years. Upon returning, he studied antique sculpture at the Naples Museum and incorporated Hellenistic influences into his work. Reviving the lost-wax process of casting used in the Renaissance, Gemito built his own bronze foundry in 1883. Three years later, he completed his only important public commission, a marble statue of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1887 Gemito suffered a mental collapse and withdrew to one room, concentrating entirely on drawing and seeing few friends. Around 1909 he resumed sculpting, basing his works on the ancients with a delicacy and detail that ultimately derived from his drawings. The Getty Museum's Medusa is an example of his work from this period.