The Hidden Symbolic Meaning of the Devil in Western Painting
Satan Symbolism in Art History
artists represented Christian culture and values. Depictions of
hell, Satan and hells mouth, rampaging demons reached a fever pitch after the great
of the mid 14th century. Satan and his evil minions were often included
as a sort of cautionary tale for illiterate church goers. According to
theologist and author, Charles Bradlaugh "The writer of Revelation,
adopting the view of some Hebrew writers, speaks of “the dragon, that
old serpent which is the devil and Satan” and following this, it is
urged that the Devil was the serpent of Genesis—that is, that it was
really Satan who, in this guise, tempted Eve."
St. Augustine and the Devil c.1471 by Michael Pacher
of Bingens, a medieval mystic and writer stated "The devil keeps man
from good with a thousand machinations spewed from his belly, so that
when a person sighs to do good, he pierces him with his shafts; and
when he desires to embrace God with his whole heart in love, he
subjects him to poisonous tribulations, seeking to pervert good work
before God. And when a person seeks the viridity of virtue, the devil
tells him that he does not know what he is doing, and he teaches him
that he can set his own law for himself." Spiritually significant
paintings created during the Gothic and Renaissance eras are complex,
fraught with religious fervor and symbolism. William H.
Hunt stated "When language was not transcendental enough to complete
the meaning of a revelation, symbols were relied upon for heavenly
teaching, and familiar images, chosen from the known, were made to
mirror the unknown spiritual truth."
In a culture of
limited literacy symbolic imagery was vital in enlightening the
masses. Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are
rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding serpents.
the emblem of heathen evil and Satan, the spiritual enemy of mankind.
Saint Michael and Saint George are often depicted battling and slaying
the dragon symbolizing their triumph over evil.
Snake - symbolizes Satan; the presence of evil, fall of man
The pitchfork and trident
are both symbols of the
Snake in a fruit tree - signifies the mans fall from grace as well as Satan's meddling in the affairs of men.
A snake brazenly slithering across the middle of a thoroughfare or road - symbolizing the False Prophet leading the way to hell.
A devious serpent peeking out of a basket, urn or pot - a spiritual reminder of Satan's presence in unusual places.
Color Red - a symbol of greediness and lust. Denotes sin; sins of mankind, Satan, original sin; temptation, Judas, Harrowing of Hell, The Fiery Furnace, Slaughter of the Innocents, the Apocalypse .
Goat - symbol of the Devil. Satan is often depicted as a horned and hoofed goat-like creature.
- symbol of the Devil or his henchmen. Satan
is often depicted as a devilish winged creature. The wasp or yellow
jacket is symbolic of Satan's relentless hunt for easily corrupted
souls and backsliders.