Katherine Wynter

author of distinctive literary fiction and fantasy

Demons Hidden in Renaissance Art

A page from the secret archives of the Parisian Society for the Study of Non-Human Entities and Their Impact on Humans.

By Nicholas Stockholm

The Renaissance was a time of daring and exploration for Keepers. With the seals to the demon world firmly entrenched, society could begin to recover from the scourge that ended the Roman Empire in the West. We thought, for a while, that the world was safe. No more demons could cross over. Although that hypothesis was eventually disproved, glimpses of demons appeared in Renaissance art as some Keepers were allowed to turn their hands to other pursuits.  Here are a few of my favorite.

Baccus and Ariadne1. Titan’s Bacchus and Ariadne

The second-order demon circled in red (with the legs of a goat and the body of a child) is a common one that has slipped into literature and art. Often half-human, half-goat demons are portrayed nowadays in representations of the devil – which took a lot of work! – but this wasn’t always the case. The mythical Pan was a god of the wild, of shepherds and their flocks, of hunting and rustic music. This depiction stemmed from a group of satyr’s who entrenched themselves in the woods outside Rome. These demons, however, weren’t as fun-loving as the stories would like to make them seem. They were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of travelers before the Keepers were able to root them out in a massive hunt that cost the lives of thirty Keepers.

Don’t mistake that angelic face! He can kick your head off with his cloven hooves faster than you can say “How cute!”

Saint George2. Raphael’s Saint George

The demon depicted on the left side of this painting by Raphael is meant to represent the famous “dragon” of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon.  According to the myth, the plague-ridden dragon lived in a lake and tormented the nearby town who fed it sheep and then children in an effort to appease the beast and keep the plague at bay. Of course, any Keeper would see the truth behind this story – the town had the misfortune of a third-order demon settling nearby.

Although we can’t be certain, the best guess is that this third order demon had the tail of a serpent, body of a seal, wings of a bat, and head of a goat. Depictions differ, and the chronicle of that family was lost in the fire of London.  Saint George, one of the renowned Hunters of his time, tracked down and killed the demon, but it wasn’t without considerable suffering for the nearby town.

Michaelangelo garden of eden3. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel

This detail from the section of the Sistine Chapel known as the “Expulsion from Eden” shows a second-order demon in the form of a woman-snake hybrid. Second order demons are human-animal hybrids – more famously known as centaurs (human-horse hybrids) or satyrs (goat-human hybrids) or harpies (bird-woman hybrids). It’s rare to see a snake-human hybrid depicted, as they tended not to thrive once crossing into this world, so this is very unique.

Where had Michelangelo – or one of his assistants – seen a second-order demon? Did a Keeper visit during the painting of the Sistine Chapel? Maybe one of his assistants was the son of a Keeper?  Our records aren’t definitive, but whatever the circumstances, the result was yet another appearance of a demon sneaking into Renaissance art.

Garden of Earthly DelightsGarden of Earthly Delights 24. Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

These fragments of Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights show just two of several demons hiding within his painting. While many believe the painting to be a warning about the dangers of indulging in the joys of the flesh, the painting also holds a secret warning about demons.

The creature on the left shows a third-order demon eating a human whole. This part bird, part frog creature hybrid shows the danger of encountering a demon of this order. These creatures feed directly on human flesh and blood, so investigating was likely to result in the person becoming dinner for this monster.

On the right, the second image is more direct. Here the butterfly-fish-toad hybrid is stabbing the human directly. There’s no mistaking this message: Demons will kill you.

For a more modern take on demons in all their forms, check out Keeper Chronicles: Awakening!

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An accomplished master of her craft, Katherine Wynter builds fantasy worlds peopled with believable characters and complex cultures. Her original, dark works are captivating. Think you've read all there is to read about monsters and demons? Think again. Wynter deftly walks the razor's edge between fact and fiction to produce fantastic works that are riveting, compelling, and, above all, believable.

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