Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Depicting demons

click photo to enlarge
When it came to depicting the devil and his minions Christianity seems to have drawn on two sources of inspiration - visions and animals. Many religious figures down the ages have claimed to have seen, conversed with and battled the forces of darkness, and their descriptions have been a source of inspiration for the artists and craftsmen who decorated churches. Animals that people often find repugnant or ugly have also been used as a source for the images of demons, the devil and all things evil. Elements of bats, snakes, lizards and goats have been heavily used to described the form of these creatures of the underworld.

A few days ago we were in Peterborough Cathedral where I paused in front of a window in St Benedict's Chapel in the south transept chapel that was a work from 1958 of the stained glass artist, William Thomas Carter Shapland. The whole composition - clearly drawn, colourful figures in settings placed in clear glass - was quite typical of many practitioners of the mid-century. What caught my eye was his scene showing Hell below the main figure. It featured a crow (raven?) with bread in its beak, a snake slithering out of a broken jar, flames and three colourful demons. These were not all alike, varying in colour especially. Their heads were inspired by goats (beards and horns), bats (ears) and reptiles (scales and dragon's tail). What particularly surprised me about these three was the brightness of the colours used for their bodies. It matched the brightness elsewhere in the window, but eschewed the more subdued colours and darker tones frequently reserved for such subjects.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm (200mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On