The ugliness of evil

I’d often noticed that devils and demons in medieval art are particularly grotesque – they often have faces on their behinds, or asses for faces, and a hodge-podge of limbs, as if they were put together senselessly or blindly, without the harmony and order so vivid in the beauty of Creation.

It had not occurred to me, however, what a friend pointed out: that the same in more recent art are often rather romantic, admirable, or even beautiful. Sometimes that conflict is intended to disturb the savvy viewer, who knows that that which appears attractive is actually deadly. But sometimes the depiction is meant to encourage a certain sympathy for evil, as if finding evil repellent is just a silly misunderstanding.

I don’t know if this difference is always evident – but below a selection of images of St. Michael that I happened to have on my laptop for another project a while back, with a variety of manners of depicting the Holy Archangel’s conquest of Satan, at God’s command*:

*Except the one eastern-style icon, which just shows a noble portrait of the robed archangel.

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