Monthly Archives: August 2015

Endearing Demons and Bland Angels

The devil has the best jokes, Evil is sexy, and Girls go all hot and vapid about the bad guys – old news, I know.

Only for me those are storytelling patterns, and just now I keep seeing images, and older images too, along those lines.

This got triggered by sauntering through the tamer areas of the web and stumbling over this image:

temptation_jesus_large

(Larger image here)  Attributed to one Jean-Marie Saint-Eve, but I couldn’t find much more information on him, except that he lived (and painted) in the first half of the 19th century.

Now, what stands out …

Coloring – Jesus in all pastels and white toga and clean, light skin. The devil has a darker, somewhat unhealthy skin-tone (is there a bit of grey or green in there?) and greyish, bat-like wings.

I don’t think that the different skin-tones are, or a meant to be, a racial slur – the facial structure on both figures looks western-european to me, and I can see nothing in the face of the devil that would hint at him being meant to look African, (east)-Indian or Asian.

Clothing versus nudity – of course. Well, as far as Jesus goes, of course he’s decently dressed, while his adversary of course isn’t. But though these days sexy demons are a staple, I’ve rarely seen such a blatant example from the 19th century. They could’ve given him some tattered clothing. They could used the “evolution of man” trick; that is, have put him into stance where his genitals are hidden from view and maybe his backside hidden by a convenient gesture, shadow or bit of his own wings.

But no – full frontal nudity, and not of an average looking or repulsive body, either. It resembles classic statues with it’s anatomically detailed representation of a healthy, athletic body. Speaking of anatomical details:  if you follow, for the sake of education and art history, the above link then you’ll see that Saint-Eve’s original included a little bit more of anatomical details than the image above. The motive … a bit anatomy education for the ladies? Devils are shameless? If you copy greek statues, you might as well do it right? Who knows.

As for athletic: if you pay attention to your Lord and Saviour on the left again, you’ll notice hints of muscles there too. Look at the neck, the lines of the shoulder and the lifted upper arm. This could nearly be the same person modeling for both of them. And that might explain something else that I keep noticing:

Quality of posing models.

The Tempter is beautifully dynamic. The gestures of the arms and hands, neck and head, feet and legs – it all suggests movement and engagement in whatever is going on between them. He’s gesturing, pointing at something, arguing. His face is alive and expressive. Saint-Eve also did a beautiful job on the details that he had to imagine: the little talons a the lower edge of the wings, the hints of horns at the hair line,  that very prominent bone-structure at his cheeks and brows – you could meet a man like that and think that he looks strange, but not unnatural and (depending on his mimics) not even ugly. As far as creativity (and my attention) goes, the image belongs to him.

The King of the Jews on the other hand – cut and paste. The posture is absolute stock ingredient, his classic “about to dispense words of wisdom” stance. This is not a man who is tempted, who is fighting a battle in his own head. It doesn’t even look like he’s listening, more like he already marshaled his own reply and is now just waiting for half a second pause in his opponent’s words. He’d look like that giving the Sermon of the Mount, chastising a mob about to stone an adulteress, … half of the scenes in the New Testament qualify.

I’m not even sure whether he is looking at his opponent of slightly above his head. In Addition: although standing in front of Satan, Jesus seems to be painted on a slightly smaller scale, which makes me wonder even more that maybe the two models weren’t in the image together. Or that there was just one live model and one painting/picture of “Our Lord Speechifiying (TM)”.

That much for the 19th century. And incidentally, isn’t it interesting how this Jesus – northern European appearance, bland good looks and detergent-commercial clean even while fasting in a desert – is still very prevalent? Okay, these days, his hair is sometimes disheveled, but he certainly doesn’t look anything like this:

homeless-man_shutterstocknomad man

Badawit_naqibhomeless_guy asian

So, even in the 21st century, Jesus Christ rarely looks like a vagrant, socialist, rabble-rousing middle-eastern man. How about the demons? How about the angels?

A few quick google image searches show that both devil and demon keep up-to-date with fashion; they tend to be very, very athletic. Male demons tend to be rather on the ugly side, female ones, you guessed it, are very sexy with cute horns and pointy teeth and about as scary as your average pin-up.

The devil is usually less ugly, more likely to be attractive and far less likely to be a rotting corpse. I suspect this has to do with the fact that in modern media – Supernatural, Sleeping Hollow and goodness knows how many other good-vs.-evil derivations (guess which side is more likely to speak with a foreign accent!) – use demons as scary hordes, and CGI allows for a lot of rotting flesh these days.

Angels – well, google search doesn’t help much there, because most of what turns up on the first pages are electronic images like wallpapers, and that means: more pin-ups (just like pretty much everything and everyone on wall-papers). Still it is noticeable that in contrast to demons, both male and female angels are sex-symbols with wings stuck on.

One of the lot I find noticeable because it’s not your standard wall-paper, and my first reaction was along the lines of “whoa, pretty hot for an angel”.

lucifer-an-angel-of-musicAnd for good reason, as it turns out. This angel is fallen, which explains the strange change in his halo and the lack of shirt under that toga. I’m including him because I like the different elements here: the key, the somewhat arrogant look, the beautiful wings – the artist managed to make them look so soft and downy, just looking at them gives me a phantom-sensation of stroking over a kitten. And, yes, the halo. But most of all the blatant self-assurance and arrogance. (Image credit apparently  to “braders”, whose account seems lost.)

On Christian themed web-sites, I mainly found stuff like this:

an-angel-ministers-to-jesus-after-his-temptationcarl_bloch_denying_satan

I’m tempted to say: We’re back in the 19th century. Good is dressed in dirt-repellent, flowing white robes (cleanliness is next to godliness!) and Evil shows skin. On older images, it’s very noticable that the devil comes with very dark skin, thankfully, that has died down. (Though I can’t help noticing the absence of dark-skinned angels.)

Then there’s a recent trend christian-themed sites, especially blogs, that I’ve been noticing for a while now:

antisemitic up to 111 I think the idea is to show that (1) evil is disgusting, (2) Jesus is perfect and (3) Jesus is, despite being the pacifist, loving, self-sacrificing Lamb of God, also very bad-ass in fighting evil.

As you can probably guess, it’s too blatant, too photo-shopped and too jarring to work for me. That it looks like a scene taking place in a bar somewhere doesn’t help. I’m very curious to see whether this attempt of marketing a badass!Jesus will come to the point where some elements of the US soldier battling terrorists the stock-in-trade bad guys of the day will sneak in.

(Context: a blog going on about the Old Testament God being a cruel sadist and complete opposite to the jewish, Passover celbrating Jesus, with plenty of bashing of modern Jews in the comments. So, no link.)

One other modern image from here:

Tissot - Satan Tried to Tempt Jesus

Now this I find interesting.

It’s the first, and possibly only image I found, where the personification of evil really scares me. It is also the first where I can find a hint of a Jewish Jesus; that cloth/shawl drawn over his head reminds of images I’ve seen of traditional Jews praying.

Most interesting maybe: this is the first image I’ve seen where Jesus does not appear to be the master of the situation. He’s in physical danger, held child-like by a much larger figure. And he deals with the situation like I would expect a truly spiritual person to do when confronted with some hostile, frightening thing that can’t be fought off with actions: drawn into oneself, pray for strength, remind oneself of one’s believes and hold on to them.  Not an exchange of clever words, which is really something you do for an audience, because the worst enemies won’t listen or give a damn about what you’re saying.

There painting contains more details to explore: the translucent quality of the opponent, the way things look different where they are ssen through his wings, the light which looks very much like break-of-dawn … All in, it has a lot of the classical elements but manages to do something at which the other paintings fail, namely, create an accessible Jesus Christ.

Why is that? Why do angels appear to bland, and even 19th century demons so alive?

That traditional angels and saints don’t have sex-appeal makes sense considering that unrestrained sex was condemned in the Christian church and, for that matter, in most religions. In the same sense, lewd or seductive demons make sense. The idea that the devil isn’t an abhorrent creature but something tempting dates back at the very least to Shakespeare, but I like the Heinrich Heine quote best: :

A man in the prime of his life is the Devil  /  Obliging, a man of the world and civil  / A diplomat too, well-skilled in debate  /   he talks quite glibly of church and state.

So Jesus can’t (and, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t have to and shouldn’t) be sexy, but why so bland?

Well, maybe that’s a bit of value-shift. I guess when the New Testament was written, and really until quite recently, spiritual leaders and their written words, weren’t supposed to be witty or entertaining. Most of the time, there was a strong hierarchy of knowledge – ignorance, student – teacher, authority and followers. And authority doesn’t crack jokes, or entertain.

Also, Jesus has lost his rebel-status and become the establishment – the death-knell of every social or political group! Lucifer of course has that status, and so do his associates. All the advantage of danger, risk and adventure, of protesting and questioning, is theirs.

What I find strange: the idea of a teacher or mentor being patient, listening instead of just lecturing, being witty or self-depreciating or having his own doubts, aren’t all that new. But a lot of followers of Christian ideas seem to cherish the old images of a flawless, clean authority to (politely) lay down the law.

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