JF Ptak Science Books Post 2233
"If a man were a porter of hell gates, he should have old turning the key." Shakespeare's Macbeth.
This woodblock, printed ca. 1475, appears in a Medieval/Renaissance classic, Speculum Humanae Salvationis, which appeared in hundreds of manuscripts beginning in the early 14th century and then through 16 editions as a printed work to the year 1500. It was a very popular work, very highly illustrated, a best-seller even, a famous work dedicated to showing the presaging relationships of the Old Testament to the New.
This image presented here depicts the Fall of Lucifer, overseen by Jesus and Angels, and falling into the gaping mouth of Hell. It is a wicked image no doubt used to scare the pants off of its readers, in the general tradition of the depiction of the massive wickedness that awaits those who stray from the teachings of that which is necessary to enter Heaven1.
Gaping mouths of Hell appear quite frequently in the history of Christian art, particularly in the representation of the place in the harrowing of hell, when after his execution Christ descends into the pits to bring to salvation all of those who were worthy of it who died before his appearance on earth. It is a very common seen, with hell appearing as a cave, or a hole in a mountain, and of course as ferocious monster mouth. In a way the stunted, black hole in a mountain, lonely and dark and just about non-existent, looked more frightening in its way, its terror implied rather than overtly visualized by horrible teeth and jaws.
For example, Fra Angelico presents the scene in 1437(-46), and shows Christ in what looks like coldness reaching for the hand of the person usually depicted the first among the saved, Adam:
[Image source, here]
It doesn't have the flavor of fear that other entrances to Hell have, though it is forbidding, with the long line of dead stretching far back into the interior.
An old friend from the National Gallery in D.C., Benevento di Giovanni (ca. 1493), shows a more dramatic entry of Christ, though the crushed devil evidently doesn't stay crushed for that long, as Limbo and Hell do not actually perish once Christ leaves:
[Image source, here]
There are many such examples, and perhaps more still featuring the anthropomorphically-alive and toothy entrance--few are scarier though than the entrance to Hell that meets these two ideas sort of in the middle, that being the quietlky shivering contribution by Hieronymus Bosch, placing the entrance to Hell in the mouth of a dead human.
[Image source, here.]
Of course Bosch can and does make the entrance more hideous and obvious in other works, but this "understated" variety is very effective.
But it is the image from the Speculum that attracts me right now, found in a book on my shelf on deeply old engravings and woodblocks, Idee Generale d'Une Collection Complette d'Estamps...by Heinecken, printed in Leipzig in 1771.
"God, shown throughout this chapter as Jesus Christ, is surrounded by the blessed angels in Heaven. Below is the scene of the Fall of Lucifer and his followers into the gaping mouth of the Leviathan, of the book of Job XLI, which is commonly identified with the inferno. The fallen angels are represented with wings, horns and cocks' feet. The Fall of the Angels is first found in Judeo-Greek literature of Alexandria in the two centuries before Christ."--Source: Speculum Humanae Salvationis 1324–1500, by Adrian Wilson & Joyce Lancaster Wilson, U.C. Berkeley Press, 1985.
1. The heaven-helly Ambrose Bierce in what would become his Devil's Dictionary, spunkily writes of heaven so: "HEAVEN, n.A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own." Uncharacteristically, he did not make an entry for hell, which I am sure he was better able to discuss.