Flying Demon, c. 1899
Art,  English

The Devil holds the strings which move us!

Introduction video credit: Forest video of Coverr-Free-Footage from Pixabay

The text below is the excerpt of the book Art of the Devil (ISBN: 9781783107698), written by Arturo Graf, published by Parkstone International.

Exploring Satan and… Art of the Devil more.

ONLY with the utmost difficulty, if at all, do men succeed in forming a concept of an incorporeal substance, essentially different from that which meets their senses. For them, the incorporeal is usually an attenuation, a rarefaction, of the corporeal, a state of minimum density, comparable though inferior to that of air or flame. To all uncivilised men, and to the great majority of those who call themselves civilised, the soul is a breath, or a light vapour, and it can be seen under the appearance of a shadow.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562, Art of the Devil
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562. Wood, 117 x 162 cm. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

The gods of all the mythologies are, to a lesser or a greater degree, corporeal; those of Greek mythology feed on ambrosia and nectar, and in case they meddle (as they are sometimes wont to do) in the brawls of mortals, they run the risk of catching a sound drubbing. It ought not to seem strange, then, that the pneumatological doctrines of both Jews and Christians generally assign bodies to angels and to demons.

In general, and as a rule, the bodies of the demons had a human form. This ought not to excite our wonder, since man, who has made the gods in his own image, has also made in his own image both angels and devils. However, when we speak of a human form, we must not conceive of a form in all respects like our own. In consequence of his sin and of his fall, Satan (“The creature who fair semblance once possessed,” as Dante Alghieri calls him) and with Satan the other rebels, not only beheld their bodies grow denser and coarser, but they also saw changed into ignominious deformity the sovereign beauty wherewith God had first clothed them. The form of the devils is, then, a human form, but disfigured and monstrous, wherein the beastly mingles with the human and not seldom exceeds it; and if, on the basis of this form, we were to assign to the demons (with the consent of the naturalists) a place in the zoological classification, we must needs class the greater portion of them in an appropriate family of anthropoids.

Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon, c. 1470, Art of the Devil
Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon, c. 1470. Oil on canvas, 55.6 x 74.2 cm. The National Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

An excessive ugliness, sometimes fearful and awe-inspiring, sometimes ignoble and ridiculous, was, then, the most prominent and apparent among what I may call the physical characteristics of the Devil; nor was this without reason, for even if it be not true that the beautiful is, as Plato was held to teach, the splendour of the good, it is, on the other hand, very true that men are drawn by some kind of instinct, whose origins we will not seek to discover, to associate beauty with goodness and wickedness with ugliness. To give to Satan an excessive degree of ugliness was considered a work of merit, which in itself benefited the soul and in which was found a legitimate outlet for hatred of an enemy never sufficiently feared.

Authors of legends, painters, sculptors, expended the best of their inventive talent in depicting Satan; and so well, or to speak more correctly, so ill did they depict him that Satan himself must have resented their efforts – though it is not likely that he sets any great store by his own beauty. There is a well-known story, told by many writers of the Middle Ages, about a painter who, having painted a certain devil uglier than fairness demanded, was by that same demon hurled down headlong from the scaffolding where he was working. Luckily for the painter, a Madonna, whom he had represented as very beautiful, thrust forth her arm from the picture and caught and upheld him in mid-air.

Raffaello Sanzio, St. Margaret, 1518, Art of the Devil
Raffaello Sanzio, also known as Raphael, St. Margaret, 1518. Oil on poplar wood, 192 x 122 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

However, it was not necessary to invent anything in this connection. Many persons had seen the Devil with their own eyes and were able to say how he was formed; in the vertiginous fantasies of the visionaries, at every slightest shock he would take shape from the shreds and fragments of images, just as from particles of multicoloured glass are formed the capricious figures of the kaleidoscope.

The Manichaeans, a famous heretical sect that arose about the middle of the third century, attributed to the prince of demons a form which was not only human but gigantic, and they said that men were made in his image. Saint Anthony (251-356), who was destined to behold him under so many other aspects, once saw him in the form of an enormous giant, entirely black, and with his head touching the clouds; but on another occasion, as a little child, likewise black, and naked. Black appears as the native colour of the demons from the very earliest centuries of Christianity, and the reasons for assigning it to them are self-explanatory, so obvious are they, and natural. More than one anchorite of the Thebaid beheld the demon in the form of an Ethiopian – which once more goes to show how the demon conforms himself to the times and places amid which he moves, or has been made to move; but countless other saints of later times continued to see him in this guise, not the least of whom was Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Anonymous, The Last Judgment, end of 14th century, Art of the Devil
Anonymous, The Last Judgment, end of 14th century. Oil on wood mounted on canvas. Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris, France.

Neither is this gigantic stature without a reason, since in all mythologies the giants are usually wicked. In that of Greece, the Titans are the enemies of Zeus, and for this reason Dante places them in Hell. Dante likewise makes his Lucifer of gigantic size; and in the French epopees of the Middle Ages the giants are quite often devils, or sons of devils. In the Vision of Tundal, composed about the middle of the twelfth century, the prince of the demons, who is roasting eternally on a gridiron, is not only of gigantic dimensions but, like Briareus, he has a hundred arms; and like Briareus, with a hundred hands and a hundred feet, he was seen in the fourteenth century by Saint Birgitta (1303-1373). On the other hand, the Devil is occasionally represented as a dwarf, probably through the influence of Germanic myths that need not be discussed in this place…

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