From Publishers Weekly
This wickedly attractive coffee-table book by Muchembled, a Parisian scholar who specializes in the history of witchcraft, traces the devil from the 12th century to the present. Satan, writes Muchembled, represents "the dark side of Western culture" and is a product of the human imagination, so any analysis of Old Scratch reveals a great deal about the changing landscapes of Europe and America through the ages. One particularly intriguing chapter touches on contemporary themes: how psychoanalysis has changed our view of the devil, how horror films have depicted Satan and how recent marketers have blithely employed his image to sell products. Muchembled doesn't have time for real depth of analysis in the short essays that form the text of this book, which is a pity, because he offers some provocative insights and sharp cultural critique. The real star is the book's full-color art, with its dazzling display of images from medieval manuscripts to contemporary comics. We see depictions of masks, cartoons, sketches, masters' paintings, facsimiles of broadsides, woodcuts and carvings of the devil through the ages. All are accompanied by Muchembled's incisive (and occasionally mordant) commentary.
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This gorgeously illustrated volume chronicles how the image of the devil in Western art has changed over the years. Muchembled divides the book into five sections, beginning with early images of the devil from the Middle Ages. The devil and his acolytes primarily showed up to torment sinners in grotesque, often sexual, ways. Subsequent sections deal with witches and sorcerers, who were believed to have consorted with the devil, and wicked women, whose tempting figures represented an almost satanic lure for otherwise pious men. Muchembled includes a diverse collection of images from artists such as Vasari, Bosch, and Goya, depicting the devil's visage in everything from a small imp to a sinister, distinctly sexual woman. But as he progresses to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muchembled finds the devil losing his power to provoke fear; instead, he becomes a more human figure and sometimes even a comic one. Muchembled has done an admirable job of presenting the history of the devil in popular culture by mixing lively text with a variety of colorful renditions of Satan. Kristine HuntleyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved