History of Art and Architecture

HAA Annual James and Susanne Wilkinson Lecture with Dr. Megan Holmes

Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 3:00pm

Room 204, Frick Fine Arts Building

“Disfiguring Devils in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy”

Dr. Megan Holmes - Professor of Art History, University of Michigan

Figures of devils and monstrous creatures in visual art made in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy frequently exhibit intentional damage. Eyes are gouged out and deep scratches trap imaginatively conceived painted demons behind nets of vigorous cross hatchings, scoring their fantastic bestial pelts and the scales of their hybridized composite bodies. This intentional disfigurement, often referred to in the scholarly literature as “vandalism,” is here shown to date to the Late Medieval and Renaissance periods, and is interpreted according to historical understandings about demonic presence and possession. Viewers, it will be argued, took direct action against painted devils in order to disrupt and neutralize the diabolical agency that was thought to operate in and through demonic imagery. Many of the examples considered are from paintings originally displayed in churches, suggesting that this kind of picture-marking may have been accepted by church authorities as a form of licit superstition, and possibly even done, on occasion, by members of the clergy.

Reception to follow.

Image info: Giovanni di Paolo, Last Judgment, c. 1460-65, Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale