miercuri, 18 iunie 2008

Representations of Hell XII-XIV centuries: a very short overview


Every age reads its biblical texts according to its own values. The actual quantum of references to hell in biblical texts is actually quite low, especially if you compare them to the detailed prescriptions of the Quran. So where theological texts failed the provide a vivid image for the representation of hell the masses filled in. And so on this subject the Middle Ages has certain dialectic to it between the theological view on hell and popular beliefs witch culminate and come tighter in the work of Dante.

Also a relevant patern for our presentation were the so callwed “visions of hell”, witch were spoused temporary vists to hell during sleep or otherwise. They were quite common and especially in the XIV century in the time of the Plague, when they multiplied along with the accounts of the devil.

The first document is a miniature form “Psautier de saint Louis et Blanche de Castille”. We don’t know who did the illumination of the manuscript but we do know that it was made for the king of France Louis IX (1214-1270) between 1220 et 1230, in order to be used by the canonical figures of Sainte-Chapelle.

One particular scene is that of the fall of the angels. In upper half haven is represented with Christ enthroned standing in the middle surrounded by angels, impassable watching over the scene developing before him. Just below him a row of angels is in free fall, but they have not yet changed there appearance to the all but familiar animalistic representations of demons in Christian iconography. And finally at the bottom the mouth of the Leviathan opens up to take in the fallen angels, who are now distorted figures of their former self.

We can see a similar scene in a manuscript currently housed at Fitzwilliam Museum: MS 330, I. In one of seven full-page extant miniatures from a lost psalter associated with William de Brailes, an artist working in Oxford, 1238-52, Christ is seated in glory, with one hand raised in blessing and another holding a book, surrounded by ranks of angels. From the lowest part of the circle of heaven rebel angels are seen tumbling down into an open hell mouth, transforming into devils as they go, assisted by two devils standing at each side. The six roundels in the frame depict seated figures of virtues and vices: Charity, Humility, Patience, Avarice, Pride and Anger.

The second document is another miniature from “Le pèlerinage de l'âme” with was written by Guillaume de digulleville who was a monk in the Cistercian abbey of Chalis.The manuscript comes form Rennes, France dated form the XV century. Le pèlerinage de l'âme is a vision of hell, purgatory, and heaven.

This particular scene[2] is that of the punishment of niggards. The author of the vision is shown in the low left guided by an angel showing him what happens to those who accumulate whealth. Tow demons, pitch black, are tormenting the group of people. Flames surround the dammed that are helpless to do anything. So what we have here is a specific group of sinners, and I might note that from a historic point of view it one of the oldest categories of sinner witch are the direct target for hellish punishments. Why? Because from the church’s point of view the accumulation of wealth was a mortal sin, and any mortal sin was deemed irremediable beyond salvation and as a consequence went directly to hell.

The third document is a detail form a fresco done by Andrea di Cione. This was the nickname of a family of artists who lived and worked in the late Gothic period; the best known member of the family, Andrea di Cione Arcangelo (Orcagna in the local dialect) worked in Florence between 1343 (the year in which we can find him enrolled in the Guild of physicians and chemists) and 1368 as a painter, sculptor and architect. This particular scene was done somewhere between 1345 and 1357 and can be viewed at Sanata Croce in Florence.

Yet again we have a scene depicting hell. We are presented with a rocky landscape. Here and there flames burst out of the gaping holes in the ground. In the upper register we can see to men fighting. This represents the sin of anger, on their rights demons are hacking away the limbs of other damed.On the left there is another couple possibly representing adultery. The middle register is deteriorated, but we can see a demon holding a flag witch reads “Avaritia”.On his left we can clearly see a group of clerical figures in a burning hole. Next to them is a demon with has gathered their bogs of money. On the far right of the fresco there is a monstrous three headed figure, eating people and holding in his hands other who will share the same fats. The demon is individualized as we can read that his name is Givoa.

The forth document comes form the “Hortus deliciarum” (Garden of Delights) witch is a medieval manuscript compiled by Herrad of Landsberg at the Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace. It was an illuminated encyclopedia, begun in 1167 as a pedagogical tool for young novices at the convent. It was finished in 1185, and was one of the most celebrated illuminated manuscripts of the period. The majority of the work is in Latin, with glosses in German.

Hell here is represented on four levels. The edges want to give the sensation of earth, and all over we can se people burning in small holes. Fire is an overwhelming reality. In the first register from above, we see different types of sinners subjected to different types of punishments. The first group of sinners on the left is probably one who is guilty of the sin of lust and carnal pleasures as snakes are attacking their sexes. On the right demons are tormenting a group of people hanging upside down, The demons are a shade of ashy gray, as would some would naturally be if he lived in the presence of ever burning fire and all have sadistic smiles on their faces. The pale color of the humans makes them look all the more vulnerable by contrast. Second register we se other punishments, as with the group on the right witch is forced to eat disgusting things such as toads. Third register we can see tow big cauldrons and fire heating them up. Demons are pushing in the damned. One is possibly for heretics, as it is suggested by their pointy hats, the other one is clearly for soldiers, as suggested by their chains mails and helmets and also the latin enscription witch reads “armati milites”.

On the last register at the bottom, we can see a on the far left a cleric figure who is taken by the hand by a demon. The human figure is represented on the frame witch suggests he is not a damned but a spectator (another vision perhaps). Next to them we can see someone punished for the sin of avarice as he is forced to eat vast quantities of gold coins. And on the right we can see Lucifer as the writing above his head suggests. He is fairly bigger than the other demons, tow beast heads coming out form his side are eating humans , and he is enthroned on the severed heads of the damned. We can not that he is chained.

The last document is a miniature for Dante Alighieri Divine Comedy. Inferno and Purgatorio (ff. 1-128), and all historiated initials illuminated by Priamo della Quercia between 1442 and 1450 Paradiso (ff. 129-190v) illuminated by Giovanni di Paolo c. 1450 and it comes from Italy, N. Tuscany, Siena.

The scene is concentrated around the demons and the damned. The demons are hairy beasts. The damned are in tow fire pits. In the first pit we can clearly see that they are clerical figures as suggested by their haircuts. One demon is chocking on of the damned while other have forks with witch to stab at them. On the right side we se some of them trying to resist but all in vain.

What do these documents reveal to us about medieval mentalities in regarding representations of hell. We must bare in mind that hell a part of the afterlife and so an important aspect of death. But when trying to grasp the problem of hell medieval thought has done a balancing act between representing it as a spiritual forma punishment, moust common to the theological thinking, and hell as a actual physical place for corporeal torments and punishments. Form this point of view I will try to answer three questions; where, who and why?

Where do the dead go after death? One most unfortunate possibility is hell. But where is hell?

From the first document we get our first clue. Hell is “south of heaven”. The angels are falling, and there is no need to stress their derection. And since Heaven lays in the skies, Hell b its opposing nature can only be at the other end.

We can get more sense out of this from Documents. 3, 4 and 5.Hell is a rocky place. The obvious suggestion is that hell somewhere underground. We can make a note that although there is no clear location, hell is a physical place.

By what other traits can hell be identified? As we can clearly see in Documents 2, 3 and 4 fire is an ever present constant in the picture.

Who resides in hell? Document 1 sets the tone. Hell is the place for the dmaned. It is first of all for the fallen angels, who have become demons. They no longer retain any attributes of their forms selfs, they are represented as monstrous creatures more beasts than anything most of the time. They are there because they have done wrong in the eyes of God. The other residents of hell al the humans that have sinned in the face God

The next question is why? We have already partially answered the question: because they have sinned. The other part of the answer is, to be punished. They are there because of capital sins. A capital sins is a direct and conscientious outrage against the nature of God. Such a sin for example the gathering of wealth. As we can see in doc. 2 and 3. Their punishment is according to the sin they have done, and the most detail description can be found in doc.4, were the specialized functions of hell are vividly depicted. Those who are administering the punishments are the demons as we can se in doc 2,3,4 and 5,they are in charge of the well workings of hell. All of the punishments are physical. first of all by fire and then more specific, by sin as is the case with documents 3 and 4.

From this we can draw the conclusion that hell as a place of the after life in iconographical representation the popular view is dominant, and is so hell is an actual place where corporal punishments take place. There is a very simple logic to it. On one side the very nature of graphic representations imposes such a direction and second of all, they are more powerful this why and the Church knew very well that it was a powerful deterrent form anti-social acts . And the iconographic implications of secular views must be also noted, as it is with Dante’s Inferno. He is indeed and Albrecht Durrer of Hell, because as with the german painter who’s apocalyptic visions inspired all later representations of Apocalypse, so did Dantes unique way of balancing popular visions of hell with dogmatic interpretations, influenced all later representations of hell.



[2] Bibliothèque nationale de France Français 376, fol. 123

2 comentarii:

Anonim spunea...

In the Hortus deliciarum, the guys in pointy hats are Jews. Their pot says "Judei".

Serj spunea...

Thank you, I appreciate the correction. I the image I had at my disposal I couldn’t make out the inscription