At the beginning of this year, the Satanic Temple of New York revealed its designs for a monument of the devil. Proposed to be placed on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, it is a challenge to the permission of religious viewpoints on the grounds represented by the granite monument of the Ten Commandments there since 2009. The statue — now lodged in a secret Red Hook warehouse while its future remains in limbo — depicts a seated goat-headed Baphomet, with two children at its side, and even a place for visitors to sit on Satan’s lap.
Influenced by a 19th-century illustration by French occultist Eliphas Lévi, it’s just one of the many incarnations of Satan. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the devil has been both beautiful and grotesque, and all manifestations in between. The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University is opening an exhibition this week — Sympathy for the Devil: Satan, Sin and the Underworld — that explores the evocation of the devil over 500 years.
As Cantor’s Curator of European Art Bernard Barryte explained to Hyperallergic over the phone, the devil was for much of the time prior to the 16th century a “bestial creature who uses fear and intimidation and horror as his means of coercing human beings to sin and fall into his clutches.” Later, following the French and American Revolution, he became “a heroic figure rebelling against patriarchal authority,” impacted by Milton’s 1667 Paradise Lost. Then under the influence of Goethe’s 19th century Faust, Satan morphed into a “dandy” who “uses guile to persuade people to sin.” Finally, by the 20th century, he became “a nonentity, a joke, to be used in TV shows and movies and advertisements for fireworks and deviled ham, and people [were] seen as the true source of evil.”
Sympathy for the Devil includes as its newest works two paintings: Jerome Witkin’s “The Devil as a Tailor” (1978–79), showing a man with a sly smirk on his face stitching uniforms for the victims and perpetrators of the Nazi concentration camps, and Andres Serrano’s “Heaven and Hell” (1984), with a naked woman evidently tortured while a cardinal turns away. “The devil is not visibly present, but the devil’s works are certainly suggested,” Barryte said.
Alongside are over 40 works from the Cantor’s collections by artists like Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch, Eugene Delacroix, and Hendrick Goltzius. The exhibition also coincides with the arrival at Stanford of Jackson Pollock’s “Lucifer” at the new Anderson Collection, and celebrates the ongoing display of “Gates of Hell” in the Cantor’s Rodin Sculpture Garden. “Evil is infinitely more interesting to people than virtue it seems,” Barryte rightly said.
Sympathy for the Devil: Satan, Sin and the Underworld is on view at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University (328 Lomita Drive, Stanford, California) from August 20 to November 30.