Hijacking Satan, Church Propaganda in Medieval Florence

In the magnificent baptistery of the Duomo of Florence, there is a master work of the Infernal Majesty of Satan and the fallen angels, eagerly munching the tenderest parts of the damned. This may be one of the earliest artistic versions of Satan as the Pan-like devil we know Him as today.

This, and Marcovaldo’s other 13th century works incorporate a blend of Byzantine and Romanesque styles, popular in Tuscany in the time. But this image of Satan is something quite new, though old. These devils are a frightening hybrid of the Satyr and a more ancient god in Tuscany, Fufluns.

These pagan deities, whose domains were merriment, orgiastic revelries and having a good time in general, are now demonized to represent the downfall of sinners, and the mysterious fits of ecstasy of the Cult of Dionysis, only known by this time in rumors or works of Greek tragedy like Euripedes’ Bacchae, were now the Church’s tool of the imagination, used to keep the masses scared and afraid, and so obedient.

See poor Satan, monstrous and in pain, feasting on the unending supply of miserable sinners. His features are an amalgam of the “unholy” animals: serpents, a goat, a bull (?). His skin is blue, which was the color for evil at the time, as a color associated with darkness and the underworld. Could this mosaic have been an influence on the image of Satan made in/famous in L’Inferno?

Claustrophobic, cacaphonic, a universe of pain. Monsters, serpents, frogs and demons scatter the damned to their appointed punishments. The recently dead (bottom left) are dragged in to meet Doom (I do appreciate the inclusion of lay people as well as a king and a bishop. The message here–NO ONE IS SAFE).

Another detail shows some nasty looking demons pulling the dead out of their graves. I particularly appreciate the strigilated sarcophagus, which was popular in the 3rd and 4th centuries especially among paleochristian burials. I think Marcovaldo is trying to show us, that just because they were alive during a certain time of Christian history, even back when martyrs were frequent and the faith meant true persecution, that would be no guarantee of paradise.

This is the age-old propaganda machine of the Christians.

Your fear equals their power.

“Every war results from the struggle for markets and spheres of influence, and every war is sold to the public by professional liars and totally sincere religious maniacs, as a Holy Crusade to save God and Goodness from Satan and Evil.”

-Robert Anton Wilson

“Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!”
― Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible


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