Damned Hardcover – Dec 2004
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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 Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was not disappointed. This is one gorgeous tome. The illustrations are striking and the commentary insightful and illuminating (if a bit brief). In particular, the section on medieval depictions of Satan is stunning...there is a creatively unsettling streak to those images which has yet to be matched. I do think the book fizzles out towards the end, as it enters modernity, but perhaps this is simply because us modern enlightened people have little use for devils and demons anymore. At any rate, pictures of the devil as a medium for advertising just don't compare to paintings of a triumphant King of Hell torturing the wicked.
Lastly, I had hoped that perhaps this book would take a little time to look at how non-Christian cultures have viewed the Devil or similar beings (like the Talmudic Lilith or the Arabic Shaitan). Even without that hope fulfilled, this is still a worthy and enlightening read. If you've got any sympathy for the devil, you'd do well to check this out.
HE ALSO DESCRIBES THE FREDDIE KRUGER'S INCARNATION AS "...DECAYED LIKE A HUMAN CADAVER..." FREDDIE IS SCARRED BY THE BURNS HE RECEIVED IN THE FIRST MOVIE. HE IS NOT DECAYED.
HASN'T THE AUTHOR ACTUALLY SEEN THESE MOVIES? OR IS HE BASING HIS SUMMATIONS ON THE POSTERS AND STILLS HE SEES? HE SHOULD STICK TO THE PAINTINGS AND AREAS OF HIS EXPERTISE. WHEN HE GETS SOME THINGS WRONG, THEN ALL THE REST OF HIS SUMMATIONS BECOME SUSPECT.
MY RATING IS BASED ON THE PICTURES, NOT THE TEXT.