Friday, August 24, 2012
Vendredi: Chthonian Histories
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