Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Face Of The Antichrist

I am deep into Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil by Bernard McGinn, and it is a wonderful look at the history of this figure. It'd be a great stocking stuffer for that budding world leader on your shopping list. McGinn is a professor at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, and his work is packed with detail. One of the topics he returns to again and again is how the Antichrist is described and depicted in art. The above fresco by Luca Signorelli (completed around 1505, according to McGinn) depicts the life of an antichrist who is a twisted parody of Jesus.

"In the foreground, an eager audience listens to his preaching, piling up gifts in his honor," writes McGinn. "Those who do not accept him are slaughtered on the left. In the middle ground, friars debate his coming, one pointing toward a scene of false resurrection... On the right, immediately above those who have fallen at Antichrist's command, the Final Enemy is being struck down by Michael while numbers of his followers are destroyed by rays from heaven."

My favorite detail of this is the woman in the center at the bottom. She is in the camp of the Antichrist's followers, but she looks back at the victims, indicating them with her hand. What is she thinking and feeling? Is she satisfied -- a true believer who thinks the dead got what was coming to them? Or is there some ambivalence there? My first thought was that she was saying, "Look, we must follow him. What choice do we have? We'll be next if we don't comply." I am a child of the 20th century, of course.

Below is a detailed view. All the details of a Renaissance Christ are there. But the lines are all too hard, the colors too garish, the angles too sharp. A perfect parody, much scarier than the devil next to him. Because he's just like us.

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