Medieval visual metaphors and beasts noble and savage.
Aleksandr E. Makhov, Srednevekovyi obraz: Mezhdu teologiei i ritorikoi. Opyt tolkovaniia vizual 'noi demonologii (The Medieval Image: Between Teleology and Rhetoric. An Attempt at an Interpretation ofVisual Demonology) .256 pp. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Kulaginoi--Intrada, 2011. ISBN-13 978-5903955053.
E. V. Pchelov, Bestiarii Moskovskogo tsarstva: Zhivotnye v emblematike Moskovskoi Rusi kontsa XV-XVII vv. (A Bestiary of the Muscovite Tsardom: Animals in the Emblems of Muscovite Russia from the Late 15th through the 17th Centuries). 202 pp. Moscow: Staraia Basmannaia, 2011. ISBN-13 978-5904043476.
The authors of these three volumes closely examine how medieval European and Muscovite artists used bestiary images in attempting to capture the liminal moment that revealed the true nature of demons and sinners, on the one hand, and reinforced the majesty of the state, on the other. Both the monograph by Makhov and that by Antonov and Maizul's focus on visual animal imagery that reflects the darker side of liminality to represent the "dark mirror of the soul." Pchelov, in contrast, investigates the Muscovites' transformation of many of these same creatures into noble emblems of state power. All three studies explore symbolic worlds characterized by an underlying duality that is especially evident in allegorical representations of beasts meant to illustrate noble or ignoble aspects of humanity. (1)
A. E. Makhov focuses on the changing image of demons in the emerging Christian culture of the West. He sees the development of West European medieval visual demonology as a reflection of both theological and rhetorical concepts. Just as writers of the period interwove contradictory elements to produce literary works simultaneously concealing and revealing truth, so artists transformed the visual image into a theologically significant narration uniting disparate elements that characterized the medieval epitome of beauty. He finds this multifaceted approach reflected especially clearly in the development of the iconography of the devil, whose image was required to embody recognizable scriptural and liturgical elements symbolizing the demonic nature. Drawing upon an impressive body of representations of demons in paintings, frescoes, architectural details, and manuscript illustrations gathered from churches, museums, and libraries throughout Western Europe and the United States, Makhov skillfully interleaves visual and textual evidence into his analysis of this medieval image's construction. One or more black-and white illustrations accompany almost every page of text, and a central insert contains 32 pages of full-color plates, most with multiple images, all referenced clearly in the text.
Makhov focuses most extensively on the theology of the demonic image, beginning with the devil's origins in Lucifer's pride. The fallen angel's rebellion upset the peaceful foundation upon which creation was based. Having caused this imbalance, the devil is literally "out of order." His disordered essence fragmented into innumerable variations, reflecting a state of "diminishment" (umalenie) that transformed the devil into the king of the material world. In the end, however, the devil plays an essential role in the fulfillment of God's plan, serving as the tempter and punisher, without whom the righteous would not win their reward.
The first part of the monograph (15-187) juxtaposes texts and images to demonstrate the theological meaning of demonic poses, gestures, and guises. For example, by raising a foot or dancing over die mouth of Hades to celebrate power over sinners, the devil contrasts demonic disorder with angelic stillness. He can even assume the form of an angel. Humanoid demons frequently are portrayed as peasants, fools, half-humans, children, or old men, playing roles of tempters, rulers over sinners, or tormentors. As evil advisers, they whisper to or put a hand on the shoulder of those they control. Demons saddle and ride sinners, lick them with tongues of fire, or use hooks to pull them off the ladder of salvation. However, the forces of good turn the tables when they join Christ and the righteous in trampling the enemy. In one example, St. Margaret seizes a demon by the horn and beats him with a mallet (182). Demons also can be leashed, as illustrated by an image of St. Julian, who is calmly reading a book, held in die same hand that grasps the chain binding the devil (186).
The devil's fallen status was reflected in animal metaphors, which were gathered into a demonic bestiary from which theologians and artists selected various elements to compose single images. Makhov enumerates that the "most significant personages" in the bestiary's hierarchy were the snake, dragon, lion, cat, other felines (leopard, lynx), wolf, dog, fox, bear, monkey, horned livestock (bull, goat, aurochs, unicorn), wild boar, winged creatures (raven, kite, sparrow, bat), leviathan, toad, lizard and salamander, insects, and scorpions. He accompanies each dissection of a demonic personage with representative illustrations, quotations, and commentary on the frequency of its usage. For example, the huge snake in early depictions linked to Byzantine tradition later grew smaller as it appeared in more varied contexts, like the mosaic in Florence's Baptistery depicting snakes emerging from the devil's ears (56), symbolizing deafness to God's word and the misuse of organs from their intended purpose. The early demonic marker of disheveled flame-like tendrils of hair standing on end atop the heads of devils evolved into a huge assortment of horns. Leopards', cheetahs', and lynxes' spotted markings became signs of the devil and the Antichrist, whose skins were blotched with sin. Reflecting the medieval enthusiasm for contradictions, however, an animal persona could simultaneously represent the forces of light and darkness. Therefore, the lion may symbolize almost equally Christ and the devil, the just ruler or the tyrant.
In the second part of his study, "Rhetoric of the Image" (188-221), Makhov investigates the iconographic equivalents of rhetorical embellishments. The medieval artist utilized various options (addition of elements, removal, transposition, replacement) in building his visual image of a demon. He could double or triple a body part, for example, adding extra faces on the torso (116, 168, 192, 206), give a demon only four fingers or a hoof (192, 196, 197, 202), insert a tail between threatening, upward-reaching forepaws or a head between legs (200), or arm a warrior demon with a head for a shield (210). But however he was depicted, the devil always was recognizable to medieval viewers who were literate in reading his symbolic attributes.
Makhov's analysis of the characteristic markers of demonic iconography provides a solid foundation upon which to expand our understanding of the allegorical associations and symbolism of animal imagery. However, he treats the European medieval and Renaissance periods as a unit, without exploring questions of regional variations or the emergence of elements reflecting changing sensibilities. Images of demons and their animal components evolved, as artists repeatedly combined standard elements from bestiaries with borrowings from other artists. Did these choices reflect changing visual meanings over the centuries? How might the popularity of an allegorical theme at one period be connected to the issues confronting society at that time? Can we trace chronological changes in the selection of the preferred "animal of the day"?
In the introduction to his study, Makhov reminds readers that the visual culture of the Middle Ages rested firmly upon the belief that an image may be read in the same way as a text (5). This concept is embedded in the Russian terminology, in which icons are "written" rather than "painted." Demony i greshniki v drevnerusskoi ikonografii by D. I. Antonov and M. R. Maizul's parallels Makhov's work in its examination of medieval demonic imagery, but it also provides a geographic mirror image tracing the evolution of depictions of demons from Byzantine models transplanted to the eastern edge of what Mikhail Gorbachev termed "our common European home."
Antonov and Maizul's concentrate on visual literacy, noting that text descriptions alone are not sufficient bases for studying images of demons in Old Russian culture. For much of the population, the invisibly active devil was "fleshed out" through the visual depiction of his deeds. The authors argue that demons appeared in Kievan Rus' depictions within a limited context (principally compositions of the Last Judgment) with little variation in type. In contrast with the West, nature and its bestiary were not sources for personifications of the devil but a testimony to the glory of the Creator. The eidolon, a Greek-based dark winged figure, was retained in the East long after it was displaced by an anthropomorphic demon with beastlike attributes in the West. Rus' iconography also continued to set demons apart from other creatures by their characteristic hair style, the khokhol (hair standing on end or twisted upward in locks resembling snakes or flames), another marker that ebbed in Western depictions. Artists adopted other devices to show what lay beneath surface illusion by drawing a "diminished" image (a dark angel, a human or beast with a dark halo) or by substituting a black dog or wolf for a human-like figure, but hair standing on end or a helmet with similar outline was the most typical. In Rus' the image of the "enemy" was less developed and frightening than in the medieval Western representations of grimacing sinners with twisted faces and contorted bodies.
In the 16th century, the entire field of Russian visual demonology was transformed as iconographers introduced a much more inventive demonic bestiary and constructed complex hybrid forms, evident in scenes of the Last Judgment and the first illustrated manuscripts of the Apocalypse. Larger, more aggressive demons used their horns, claws, and teeth to torture sinners, whose postdeath torments and suffering began to be depicted more graphically. The authors trace this change to the influence of the oprichnina, which they interpret as the engine Ivan IV employed to cleanse his state of sin. Reacting to a series of social cataclysms (oprichnina, Time of Troubles, Schism), Muscovite artists borrowed clearer and more frightening images from the European tradition, prolonging the life of Gothic images no longer stylish in the Western Baroque. Antonov and Maizul's point out that this new iconography of the enemy took shape without any parallel text "portraits." Satan and demon princes became larger figures wearing beards as a marker of status. The eidolon was replaced with beast-like creatures, covered with hair, with animal snouts or birdlike beaks, tails, often horns. Demonic iconography reached its peak of development in the 17th century, when Western motifs merged with native invention to create exotic monsters and beastlike demons, and vivid depictions of eternal torture increasingly served as a means of leading sinners to repent.
Antonov and Maizul's have initiated a fascinating field of inquiry, and their linkage of traumatic events in Muscovy with the appearance of new demonic imagery opens expanded avenues for exploring the evolution of medieval and early modern Russian visual culture and the reception of Western forms and motifs. Their interpretation of the Kievan view of the natural world as less threatening may help explain why Muscovy's later adaptations of Western beastlike demons produced so many far-from-terrifying, hellish monsters. In contrast with Makhov's monograph, their study is relatively sparsely illustrated and draws heavily on 18th-century materials, despite the abundance of relevant 16th- and 17th-century sources. But even this limited sample reveals a bestiary of creatures that are more domesticated than fierce. Demons in a 17th-century Sinodik miniature, for example, are astride clawed horses whose upright, flame-like ears frame their impishly smiling faces (217). A contemporary 17th-century Apocalypse miniature depicts a dog-headed Hades with another rounded dog's head protruding at waist level, both drawn without teeth and docilely yawning or smiling rather than snapping (211). An 18th-century image of the Last Judgment captures the liminal moment when heretics reveal their true nature by depicting Arius and his followers with what the authors label dogs' heads (264-65), but the rounded snouts and eyes, smiles, and overbites much more closely resemble features of dolphins (cf. Pchelov, Bestiarii, 103-20). These traits fit the paradigm of "cuteness," as determined in scientific studies of visual signaling. Brian J. McVeigh, a specialist on East Asia, has suggested that the marked Japanese preference for cuteness is a counter to the "strongly hierarchical nature" of Japanese culture: "Cuteness is used to soften up the vertical society, to soften power relations and present authority without being threatening." (2) Such a relationship may also help clarify the Russian depictions of so many tame dragons being "vanquished" by St. George.
While Russian iconographers were adopting and incorporating images from the West European demonic bestiary, Muscovy's rulers were developing a bestiary of a distinctly different sort, which used depictions of various "noble beasts" as representations of secular power. E. V. Pchelov's study focuses on the symbolism of animals chosen to be depicted on the regalia and court decor as emblems of the power of the Muscovite tsars. These creatures are familiar to most readers: the eagle (single- and double-headed), unicorn, lion, and paired unicorn and lion, the animals at the base of the Throne of Monomakh and those depicted on the ceremonial set of archer's weapons (saadak) of 1627-28, along with the animal statues incorporated in the ornamentation of the Kremlin's Spasskaia (Savior) Tower, and exotic creatures from East and West--such as dolphins, elephants, and parrots--that appear on various items associated with the court. Bears in medieval Russian heraldry are discussed in an appendix, since they did not figure among the royal emblems despite Western personifications of Russia as a bear.
Pchelov examines the significance of each of these symbolic creatures within the context of Russian, European, and Eurasian cultural history, focusing on the circumstances in which they were used and discussing their functions in representing tsarist power on seals, coins, regalia, and in the decor of the court. Beginning with the most widely recognized emblem, he argues that the two-headed eagle, despite long debate, has not been placed in the full context of its evolving image but also notes the increasing complexity of contributory contexts for an emblem common to so many cultures since the dawn of artistic representation. While we most often associate this eagle's appearance with the seal of Ivan HI and the arguments over Byzantine versus Habsburg influence, the image appeared sporadically in earlier Old Russian culture: for example, the two-headed bird image found in the Gnezdovo hoard, probably from the last third of the tenth century. The emblem continued to be used throughout the Muscovite period, appearing on the gates of Ivan IV's Oprichnina Palace; on the scepters of Mikhail Romanov, Aleksei Mikhailovich, and Peter; and on the double throne of Ivan and Peter made by Kremlin masters in the 1680s (11-38). In dealing with each noble beast, Pchelov brings together historical background, religious and literary connotations, allegorical symbolism, and illustrations of public display. Considering the lion in this context, the reader can be overcome by a stream-of-consciousness concatenation of images of royal power: the lion of Judah, Solomons throne, the lions of Vladimir, the base of the Throne of Monomakh and the lion footstools of the tsars, Byzantine lions and their counterparts at Kolomenskoe, the lion gates of the ancient world and the lions on the north gate of the Oprichnina Palace and in the decor of the Faceted Chambers (Granovitaia palata), Terem, and Miloslavskii Chambers (later the Poteshnaia palata) in the Kremlin.
Limited space precludes detailed discussion of Pchelov's entries, but his exposition of the emblems of state power adorning the Kremlin's Spasskaia Tower merits special attention. This entrance was the gateway to the Muscovites' seat of power. In 1624-25, a major reconstruction project and the installation of a new clock changed the tower's shape and decor. The new design placed 16 figures at the base of the arcades below the clock faces. Unfortunately, most of the current sculptures are inferior copies of lions and "chimeras" created in the course of 19th- and 20th-century restoration efforts. Even more unfortunately, Pchelov's volume includes only one illustration of the tower (no. 49), in which the figures are only blob-like shapes. Readers interested in these statues should turn to a fascinating study by A. V. Grashchenkov, cited by Pchelov, which provides reproductions of photographs from 1918-20 of two 17th-century sculptures, since lost, figures of a lion and a unicorn (in Grashchenkov's view), reminding us of the contrast between the Gothic expressiveness of the original aggressive and powerful lion, the strong neck of the unicorn, and the crude disproportion of the later copies. (3)
The 17th-century clock faces originally were set into the arch area below the space occupied by the current dials, and the clocks were topped by a display of zodiac signs and stars of the celestial sphere. Sculptures of peacocks hovered over the heavenly symbols, while the areas under the clock faces were decorated with the animal sculptures and four human figures, which Pchelov identifies as the four Evangelists, representing morning, afternoon, evening, and night. The lions and unicorns looked heavenward while holding spheres in their upraised front feet. Pchelov believes that these figures represent a larger astronomical-calendar image, symbolizing cosmic time, with the peacocks as emblems of the celestial sphere hovering above the lion and unicorn, allegories for the sun and moon.
In contrast with other Muscovite usages of emblematic animals, such as the Throne of Monomakh still in the Dormition Cathedral or items on exhibit in museums, the Spasskaia Tower's decor cannot be closely examined because it adorns a tower now used as an entrance to the Kremlin only on a few ceremonial occasions, and there are no public tours of the tower or clock mechanism. Grashchenkov reminds us, however, that the emblematic decor of the 17th-century Spasskaia Tower must have greatly impressed Muscovites and visitors, who understood its symbolic message. The noble beasts stood in profile, with clearly visible muzzles craned up to the heavens, toward which they held out spheres indicating the submission of earthly to celestial power. The depiction of the heavens featured signs of the zodiac, stars, and moon of gilded copper on a blue ground, surmounted by peacocks symbolizing the cosmos, eternity, and wisdom. Grashchenkov thinks that a two-headed eagle once occupied the center of the lower section of the heavenly sphere. Viewed from below, the emblematic eagle might have appeared to merge with the heavens. Thus the two-headed eagle was symbolically bringing the Russian state under the protection of the highest celestial powers.
The stimulating discussion of these sculptures and their meaning raises new questions. For example, the animals are posed in profile but not in the heraldic "rampant" attitude (position), as they are in such other Muscovite examples as the paired lion and unicorn portrayed on the Printing Office. Instead, the tower figures assume a "sajant erect" attitude, sitting on their haunches with the body erect and both forepaws raised as they would be in the rampant position. Perhaps this pose was necessitated by their placement on pedestals high on the tower, although it would appear equally possible to present them rampant. It is likely that this pose depicts them in a position as closely as possible to kneeling in submission to a higher power, thus deepening the significance of the ensemble.
Readers of these volumes will raise new questions about what they see in works of art from the medieval West and from Muscovy, having been made more aware of the markers from both the demonic and the noble medieval bestiaries that still influence the visual culture of the modern world. The khokhol, for example, makes a striking appearance in David Burliuk's 1918 painting Witch Doctor. (4) This marker lives on even when it is incorporated in much lighter secular graphics, comic-strip characters such as Batman's adversary The Joker, the Katzenjammer Kids, and Dilbert's corporate manager, identified only as the "Pointy-Haired Boss," and his behorned demon brother "Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light." Noble beasts likewise continued to emblematize the Russian state after the Muscovite period. Endre Sashalmi's recent study of a handbook of Western symbolism, translated on orders of Peter the Great, focuses on the frontispiece, a Western-style portrait of Peter surrounded by eight devices (images and mottos), including a lion (representing Peter) victorious over its prey and the two-headed eagle on the state crest, with St. George (representing the tsar) overcoming the dragon. (5) Although the state crest has undergone modifications since Peter, its two-headed eagle has returned to Russia's currency and Moscow's towers.
All three studies remind us that the eastern and western Christian worldview has grown out of a deeply rooted story of creation wherein the natural world exists for the benefit of humans, whose privilege of naming the animals conferred the right to rule over them. Using this accepted principle, Christian writers and artists wove animal symbolism and allegory together into an ever more complex system with an underlying duality of good and evil. Animal images were enlisted to represent both the beasts of Hades and the majesty of the state. Therefore, we need to remember that these very different interpretations of the medieval bestiary's images, which still trigger our subliminal responses, were created by humans and influenced by the oppositions and contradictions inspiring those "writing" the visual texts which may, in turn, inspire us to recognize the multiple levels of meaning in their work.
Dept. of History
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0327 USA
William Craft Brumfield, the author of A History of Russian Architecture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) and numerous other studies of Russian art and architecture, generously provided the illustrations for this review. The demons shown here are striking examples of the creative energy and graphic imagination of artists in the Russian North, whose fresco cycles merit deeper study. The demon plagued with sacs of sin is featured in the mural Trials of the Monastic (Pritchi starcheskie) from the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael in Velikii Ustiug, South Gallery wall painting, photographed 18 July 1999 (see William Craft Brumfield, Velikii Ustiug [Moscow: Tri kvadrata, 2007], 93, 95; the entire mural appears on 91-96). The blue demon appears in a scene from the Apocalypse, "the devil places his mark on the foreheads of people," in the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Kirillov-Belozerskii Monastery, north wall of the North Gallery, left window detail, photographed 1 April 2001 (see William Craft Brumfield, Kirillov Ferapontovo [Moscow: Tri kvadrata, 2009], 89). For photo essays on significant Russian architectural and artistic sites, see Professor Brumfield's ongoing series in Russia beyond the Headlines (http://rbth.com/discovering_russia, accessed 6 July 2014).
(1) There is a huge bibliography on the themes raised in the books being reviewed, of which only a few examples can be cited here. On demonic representations, see Lorenzo Lorenzi, Devils in Art: Florence from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, trans. Mark Roberts (Florence: Centro Di, 1997); Luther Link, The Devil: A Mask without a Face (London: Reaktion Books, 1995); and Link, Devil: The Archfiend in Art from the Sixth to the Sixteenth Century (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996). For studies tracing die symbolic use of an animal, see Marianna Sammer, Der Basilisk: Zur Natur- und Bedeutungsgeschichte eines Fabeltieres im Abendland (Munich: Institut fur Bayerische Literaturgeschichte, 1998); and Alain Boureau, L'aigk: Chroniquepolitique d'un embleme (Paris: Cerf, 1985). Revived Russian interest in heraldry and state symbolism has produced a significant body of recent studies. See, inter alia, A. G. Silaev, Istoki russkoi geral 'diki (Moscow: FAIR-PRESS, 2002); A. L. Khoroshkevich, Simvoly russkoi gosudarstvennosti (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1993); N. A. Soboleva, Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi simvoliki: Ot tamgi do simvolov gosudarstvennogo suvereniteta (Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul'tur, 2006); and Magdolina Agoston, Velikokniazheskaiapechat' 1497'g.: K istorii formirovaniia russkoigosudarstvennoi simvoliki (Moscow: Drevlekhranilishche, 2005).
(2) Natalie Angier, "The Cute Factor," New York Times, 3 January 2006 (www.nytimes. com/2006/01/03/science/03cute.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, accessed 29 January 2014).
(3) A. V. Grashchenkov, "Skul'ptura Spasskoi bashni Moskovskogo Kremlia," in Moskovskaia Rus': Problemy arkheologii i istorii arkhitektury k 60-letiiu Leonida Andreevicha Beliaeva (Moscow: Institut arkheologii RAN, 2008), 417-26. For a recent photo of the Spasskaia Tower's clock faces and the animals beneath them, see The Moscow Times, 22 October 2014, 16.
(4) See http://artsalesindex.artinfo.com/asi/lots/3546704, accessed 22 January 2014.
(5) Endre Sashalmi, "The Frontispiece of Peter the Greats Simvoly i Emblemata (1705): An Iconographical Analysis," Canadian-American Slavic Studies 47 (2013): 459-72.
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|Title Annotation:||Demons and Sinners in Old Russian Iconography: The Semiotics of the Image; The Medieval Image: Between Teleology and Rhetoric. An Attempt at an Interpretation of Visual Demonology; A Bestiary of the Muscovite Tsardom: Animals in the Emblems of Muscovite Russia from the Late 15th through the 17th Centuries|
|Author:||Kleimola, Ann M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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