Friday, August 24, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the ten to twenty years prior to the Protestant Reformation, artists were beginning to express the ever growing sense hostility toward the Catholic Church that would sweep through wide swaths of Europe. Through the use of humor, sometimes in the form of cartoons and on other occasions as mock expressions of religiously sanctioned art, these talented men would point up the issues surrounding such common practices as the selling of indulgences and the lack of celibacy among the clergy.

An example of this kind of non-verbal condemnation of the Church can be seen in the pen and ink piece shown above. Exquisitely executed by Urs Graf in 1512, it tells a story that would be instantly familiar to many of Europe's citizens in the year it was completed. Depicted is the stereotypical "lecherous monk", complete with demon or devil to inform his next act of sin.

While the monk is a standard religious, even recognizable to people in our modern age, the demon has some unique if not entirely original features. Most of these can easily be read as - you'll pardon the pun - pointing to the monk's favorite vice.

The demon's face seems permanently twisted into a lecherous leer complete with rolling eyes and grinning mouth. His head is full of jutting spikes that echo what's going on below his waist. There a one has to imagine permanently erect phallus is only partially concealed by a twining, prehensile tail that would likely scare off even some well seasoned professionals in debauchery. All that aside, my favorite little detail here is the devil's left leg. This tapers into a peg, shaped rather like an upside-down wine bottle, which will remind post-modern observers of nothing so much as a pirate's wooden leg.

As a precursor to the denunciations of men like Luther and Calvin, this picture really is worth a thousand words.

Header: Hermit and Devil by Urs Graf c 1512, pen and ink on paper. Copy from the book Damned by Robert Muchembled, Chronicle Books, 2002


Timmy! said...

That is a good one, Pauline.

He's got the devil (or his own personal demon, anyway) on his back...

Pauline said...

Seriously; it would be time for counseling in our modern era.