Depictions of the Devil in Arts

Ever since the creation of the Bible, the Devil has been a figure that fascinates people and artists alike. This fascination has particularly blown up in the Medieval ages that were marked by religious-inspired art pieces, but the interest in the unholy remains strong to this day. In this blog post, we’ll chronologically present the ways the portrayals of the Devil changed from the ancient mosaics to modern films and TV shows.

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Devil as a Fallen Angel

Early Christian authors including St Augustine, for instance, depicted the Devil as a fallen angel. Considering that he wasn’t a physical being, he could take on any form whatsoever and become a woman, a holy ghost, or any other creature depending on his goals and desires. However, in order to convey the message about the brutality of the Devil better, artists usually depicted Devils as scarier as they could. 

The first visual depiction of the Devil can be traced back to the 6th century and a Roman mosaic found in The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, in Italy. In the mosaic, Jesus is separating sheep, which represent the souls of the saved, and goats (the souls of the damned). Satan stands above the goats, depicted as an angel wearing a halo, much different from the terrifying portrayals that we are used to. Interestingly, here Satan is represented as the blue angel, standing opposite of the red angel, that symbolizes the holy kingdom. Soon, however, the color palette will change and red will become the go-to color for representations of the Devil and hell alike.


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Join our online talk The Roots of the Demonic and the Devil in the Middle Ages

Devil as the Beast

But not all Roman artists presented the Devil as angelic. As more and more Romans rejected paganism, the Gods from pagan religions were increasingly being seen as demonic. One of them, Pan, a half-goat half-man, will become the blueprint for later depictions of the Devil. Artists have begun to depict the Devil by employing pagan images of Pan or Lusty satyrs, with long ears, a tail, and horse ears. Portrayed with goat horns and cloven hooves the Devil was increasingly being portrayed as a beast-like creature twisted by sin.

A Creature with Bat-like Wings

In the early Middle ages the Devil, like any other fallen angel, was frequently presented with feathery wings, but after the 12th century, the wings turned into leathery bat-like wings. These leathery wings were popularised by the 14th century Dante Alighieri’s poem Inferno, which had a huge influence on future Satanic representations. Likely based on wicked demons named Lilith from old Babylonian texts (that later evolved into Lilith the rebellious first wife of Adam), Dante Alighieri’s Satan was described as the beast with two bat-like wings, three faces, and a mouth with crunching teeth. 

The teeth played an important role in the works of the 15th-century painter Fra Angelico. In the 1431 painting The Last Judgment, Satan was portrayed as a black monster-like figure with big ears, white horns, and white teeth chewing on the bodies of the damned. Around this time the Devil’s role began to change and he became crueler and crueler. 

Fra Angelico, Last Judgement
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Fra Angelico, Last Judgement

A Godlike Military Leader

In the 17th century, John Milton wrote a poem titled Paradise Lost where Satan was described rather differently. Instead of the horrifying ugly creature, the Devil was portrayed as the most beautiful of all God’s angels. Less of an ugly demon and more of a heroic military leader in his poem Satan was depicted as a chiseled, handsome, young man. The image of the beautiful Satan remained popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries when the poem was popular. Inspired by Paradise lost, painter William Blake, for example, depicted Satan as a Godlike creature whose features are completely human. 

Devil in Red Tights

Another popular Devil representation is the image of the unholy creature dressed in red tights, which originally comes from the theater production. The first appearance of the Devil in the red tights emerged from Charles Gounod’s opera adaptation of Faust, where the character of the Devil wore a Renaissance-era costume with hose aka red tights. The image of a Devil in red tights remained popular in the 19th and the 20th century often paired up with a pointed beard and a pitchfork.

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The Devil’s Advocate

Devil the Businessman

The Devil of the 21st century is often portrayed as a powerful, wealthy man, often a businessman like Robert DeNiro in Cryptic Hearts, or Al Pacino’s Lucifer in the film Devil’s Advocate. These men use their power and wealth to lure others into sin. Popular Netflix series Lucifer, for instance, portrays the Devil as a rich Nightclub owner.

The Fresh Perspective on the Devil and the origin of Evil

Want to know more about the Devil? Join our expert speaker Gavin Baddeley, who will guide you through the evolution of Evil, from the beginnings of the civilizations till today. The first of four talks on the subject will focus on the period until the Middle Ages. Considering Gavin is an occult historian and an ordained Reverend in the Church of Satan,  the talk will provide a rarely seen perspective on the issue. He will take us back to the beginning of the Abrahamic faith, to examine the genesis of the Prince of Darkness.

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