Friday, July 27, 2012

The Gaze and Batman

The Devil in Art is a humongous topic and I think I managed to finally narrow my thesis topic down to the depiction of the ‘special relationship’ between women and the Devil. I decided that I do not want to take the usual path and look at witchcraft, but rather indulge my passion for the Genesis 3 story of Adam, Eve, and the snake. In the Bible the snake is a snake and just that – a reptile, however, the reception and interpretation of the text turned it in to the devil. The snake being the devil makes the representations of the snake as a female all the more interesting.

One of the more famous representations of thesnake as a female can be found in theSistine Chapel.

This choice also means that my reading will consist of gender theory, sexuality, nakedness, and of course The Gaze. With the latter I always seem to be at odds mostly because I beve it is dated.

Yesterday I went to watch the new Batman, yes it is awesome it was also the first out of Nolans trilogy to have a bed scene. During the bed scene what struck me was that all the attention of the camera was on the naked male. The viewer got a good look at his chest, and arms, and muscles while the female sat wrapped up in the shade. I found this a very interesting turn, as it implies the scene was not so much for the heterosexual males pleasure and libido (if anything Christian Bale’s body will put many to shame) but for the pleasure of girls and male gays watching. Even more interesting, I expected that to balance it out Catwoman would show some skin but no, and her being dressed in latex still left a lot to the imagination. Thinking about it the latest Batman franchise is the ultimate eye candy for girls and gays and the fact that it was filmed by a male (and I am guessing straight) director puts the Male gaze theory out of date.  
Another example of such eye candy is again with Christian Bale, the opening scenes of American Psycho show him naked taking a shower and then working out in his underwear. This is a good example of the double standards of any feminist theory: if it was a naked female showering and working out filmed by a male it would have been labeled porn and one or two feminists would be at the director’s throat. However, since it’s a really good looking guy (and filmed by a female) the feminists are kept preoccupied with something to stare at.
Scene from the opening sequence of the American Psycho.
The Gaze theory is interesting and it is a valuable prism through which to examine some movies and artworks works yet it seemed that it cannot be applied to most of the contemporary culture. Laura Mulvey’s thought that “According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification”  became obsolete the second a female character in a movie/show/book/sitcom said ‘Mmmm, look at his hot ass.’ It became dated the second voyeuristic websites such as  began to appear. The gaze theory should have died the second homosexuality came out of the closet because now when a male and a female are staring at a woman you cannot be too sure about who is admiring the breasts and who the handbag.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Psalter map, London, British Library, Add. MS 28681, fol. 9, London? After 1262
I must admit that when I started studying Medieval Art (or as some would view it: when the lecturer started talking Medieval Art at me) what blew my mind was not the talent of the masons, not the perfection of calculations at Vezeley, not even the quirkiness of Green men and Shilah na gig, not the creative use of typology in Franciscan art for their propaganda. No, it was a simple fun fact that 'They knew that the world was round!' It was as if a light was switched on and the Dark Ages ceased to be so dark. Yes, the world was round, and that small piece of knowledge united me and them.  
Apparently the misconception became popular knowledge after in 1828 Washington Irving's highly romanticised biography, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, was published and mistaken by many for a scholarly work. In Book III, Chapter II Irving gave a largely fictional account of the meetings of a commission established by the Spanish sovereigns to examine Columbus's proposals. Where the more ignorant and bigoted members on the commission had raised scriptural objections to Columbus's assertions that the Earth was spherical. Of course there was no such meeting and there is nothing in the Bible about the shape of the world.

There probably were people that thought that the world was flat yet they were a minority, like now we have people that think that creationism is true, or 18% of Americans think that the sun revolves around the Earth (if you are British do not laugh 19% of UK think that).* Yet those crazy assumptions, then like today, had nothing to do with the Bible and had everything to do with personal ignorance.

To understand that the world is round one does not need to know maths, the power of observation is enough. One can observe that when a ship approaches the shore: it appears gradually from underneath the horizon. This is all prove needed. In other words any society with sea travel would know that the world is spherical. Moreover evidence of 'they knew about spherical earth' is found in the majority of art works. Look at the one above. It is Mappa Mundi from a psalter. It is not to be read like Google maps it has little to do with geographical navigation and all to do with navigation through the world view. The map is a circle. Of course it could be argued that it just shows that the Medievals though the world was a flat circle. Then look at the image again. In Christ's left hand you can see him holding the Earth shaped like a ball.This is pictorial evidence that our ancestors were not as dumb as we think they were but then it seems to be the guilt of every generation to think that we are swarter than the previous one. It also shows that art is a historic document that can be used as evidence and should be used as evidence. This (annoyingly) is often forgotten, and lies buried underneath the empty noise of pretentious 'arty' speeches about how 'my life is art and art will save the world.'

Monday, July 9, 2012

What happened to the imp?

I love imps they are funny, clumsy, cute, when they appear in folk stories you know that some funny mischief will happen. They are funny, and though they provide a conflict they are safe like Tom, or Sylvester, or the coyote who can not catch the road runner. One thing I could not understand is where did they go? If Latvian, Russian, some Germanic and Scandinavian folk stories are  stuffed with imps the British ones seem to substitute the word 'imp' for 'devil' or 'demon'. In art imps are also none existent there are a couple of small black imps in earlier manuscripts but that is about all.  The only imp I am aware of in Britain is the one hiding on one of the columns of Lincoln Cathedral. 
So what happened to the imp? Today I came across one plausible explanation - Theater. Let me explain. Obviously different art form influence each other. Literature, art, music, performance all have an effect on each other. For example it is believed that the 13th century ceiling mosaic of Florence Baptistery greatly contributed to the image of hell in Dante's Divine Comedy.
The punishments of the damned. Detail of Last Judgment scene in the Byzantine-style ceiling mosaic, 13th century. Florence Baptistery, Florence, Italy.
According to  J.B. Russell (in 'Lucifer' my current bedside book) it was hard to represent the little black imp on stage and even then it lacked horror and looked unimpressive. The desire to impress audience encouraged a more grotesque representation of the Devil in theater which then migrated in to visual representation. With that the representation of the little black imp declined by late medieval ages and was completely substituted by more grotesque images.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Introducing the first image of the Devil! (continued)

The Judgment of the Nations, early 6th century C.E., Mosaic,
Ravenna, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, upper register of the nave.
 After the excitement of finding the oldest image of the devil cooled down (I don’t think it will ever die out completely) and I got my head back I read up on the image.
The mosaic is dated 520 common era.  The halo in this case represents not divinity like in later medieval art but is a symbol of power negative and/or positive. Also it was typical to present the devil as a humanoid rather than as an animal hybrid which became orthodox from 11th century.
Red as a color for the devil that we are accustomed to is a 9th century development, earlier on he was usually black, blue or violet because he was composed of the dark, thick, lower air, as opposed to the good angels, who were made of ethereal fire and were thus colored red.   
In other words everything we think the devil is developed around the Middle Ages if not later.

My favourite book ever 'Lucifer' by J.B. Russell

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Introducing the first image of the Devil!

The Judgment of the Nations, early 6th century C.E., Mosaic,
Ravenna, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, upper register of the nave.
This image of really poor quality is the first representation of the Devil (at least according to Jeffey Burton Russell). The Devil is shown without horns, and not as a hybrid, and without a psycho glare in his eyes, and with a halo. The best thing is the Devil is not even in red, so no fiery fires of hell, he is wearing light blue. Granted he is on the left of Christ not on the right and counting goats rather than sheep.
To me this image is enchanting its a first ever image and its so different from what we see 14 centuries onwards.