Thursday, June 20, 2013

Satan in Giotto's fresco and Egyptian god Bes

Last Judgement
Giotto di Bonavenda 1306
Scrovegni Chapel Padua
Image Web Gallery of Art
Alastair Sooke published in BBC Cutlure June 19, 2013 an interesting article on how imagery of Egyptian god Bes may have influenced the depiction of Satan in Christian art. The analysis is well worth reading in its entirety (here).

The decisive punch of Sooke's argumentation comes at the end of the article. He refers - almost in passing - the world famous fresco of Devil in Arena Chapel of Padua. Giotto depicts the Devil in decidedly bessian style. However, as Sooke rightly reminds us, Bes was for ancient Egyptians a protective god especially helping in delicate moments of child birth rather then an incarnation of evil.

Detail from Last Judgement
Image Web Gallery of Art
On theological note, Giotto depicted in his Last Judgement fresco the Devil as having a real good time in Hell   as an orgy of devouring condemned humans. This is an interesting twist of Biblical message common in Medieval Church art - for the Book of Revelation describes the burning lake of hell prepared as a place of eternal punishment for him and his angels.

Egyptian god Bes
Image BBC Culture

The typical depiction of Bes in Egyptian art shows him facing the viewer. This is very uncharacteristic as gods, people and also animals are usually depicted in profile - they "walk like an Egyptian". As Alistair Sooke suggests this detail may indicate foreign, possibly African origin, to this god in the rich pantheon of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses.

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