In Art and Literature

In Art and Literature

Since the Devil was a very real part of the experience of the men of the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that he was represented with great frequency in the art of the period. The Apocalypse formed a frequent subject of illuminated manuscripts and cathedral sculpture, and in both of these the Devil appeared in varied and grotesque forms. Among the manuscripts of this type is that of the 8th century monk Beatus, a work of which several versions have been preserved, and the famous Apocalypse of Saint-Sever (11th century). The sculptures of the great cathedrals, especially those built during the 11th and 12th centuries, abound in figurations of the Devil, both inside the sanctuaries and outside. Undoubtedly the best known are the gargoyles and the Portal of the Last Judgment at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris. Similar sculptures adorn the cathedrals at Autun, Chartres, and Vezelay.

The medieval legend of Dr. Faustus has been a recurrent theme in Western literature, the most famous versions being by Marlowe and Goethe, and in the 20th century by Paul Valery and Thomas Mann. According to the legend, Faustus employed magical incantations to conjure up the Devil, with whom he then made a compact,, offering his soul in return for unworldly Knowledge and pleasure. Goethe’s Faust has been the basis for operas and choral works by Gounod, Berlioz, Schumann, and Boito.

Other famous representations of the Devil in literature are found in Dante’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto 34), where Lucifer is depicted as a hideous being with three heads, and where Hell and its denizens are given their fullest description. Vondel’s Lucifer and Milton’s Paradise Lost may be cited as other examples in world literature. Modern literary representations of the Devil appear in G. B. Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, S. V. Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and in Stravinsky’s l’histoire du soldat (based on a play by the Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz) and his opera The Rake’s Progress. The Broadway musical and film Damn Yankees was a popular version of the Faustus theme.

In the graphic and plastic arts the Devil continued as a frequent subject into the Renaissance and more recent periods. He is found in various renderings of the Temptation of St. Anthony, as in works by Matthias Griinewald, Hieronymus Bosch, and the modern painter James Ensor.

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