Jun 24, 2009
Yes, that’s true. I even got a Master’s Degree. Now, I like history and other humanities for lots of reasons, not just because they’re sometimes kind of metal, but I figured that with my first post on this site I’d return to my roots and original reasons for liking history.
Strangely enough, this post will sort of fit in thematically with some of my others that are in the works in that one of my goals for this site is to highlight artists that I find interesting, under appreciated or just plain awesome. So, get ready for some awesome medieval and Renaissance artworks.
Also, just to be clear, by metal I mean like fucking metal man. Like with guitars and stuff. Got me?
Gustave Dore is really metal (he’s also from the 19th century, so, not medieval at all really. still super metal though). I can appreciate the intricacies of Gustave Dore‘s etchings on a purely artistic level. However, I can appreciate them much more on a purely metal level. I’d say his interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy is my favorite. For instance, Dore’s depiction for Canto XXVII shows the “Sowers of Dischord”, poor damned souls that they are, ripping themselves apart as their innards spew out.
Even his work on the Bible is pretty metal. This really brings the up the question, unanswered by many except for maybe Zao, as to why is it that the Bible and Christian imagery in general is so metal?
I guess my first answer would be that both share a strange preoccupation with the Devil. In fact, looking at Dore’s work on the Divine Comedy its interesting to note that the majority of his etchings deal with the Inferno, as opposed to Purgatory or Paradise. I think this has much to do with the fact that hell, being what it is, would be the easiest to represent visually. Theologically speaking (if I were a medieval Catholic, or I guess the 19th century Dore too), evil/hell/satan could all be represented visually because evil/hell/satan were all tied to a notion of physicality, just like the human body (which was also treated with mistrust). The mind or spirit (like Paradise or God), on the other hand, were more ephemeral and, specifically, they were decidedly non-physical. This is all due to some big theological debates that led to a body/spirit = evil/good stance by the Catholic church. In any event, this theology would make it easier to picture or create an image of a monstrous horned demon than something of the “divine realm”. Before I get on some crazy tangent about dualism (boy could tell you some tales about the Cathar heresy) or even iconography, lets see what all this has to do with metal.
First off, I honestly have no real idea, but lets just muse for a second. I guess I’d say that metal, being really serious rock music, is concerned, as all great rock n roll is, with the human body and all of its more natural yet frowned upon needs and wants. By this I guess I mean drugs, sex, moving around a lot in an aggressive yet not necessarily coordinated manner, and loud noise. Given this, metal’s choice of Christian imagery is actually a pretty appropriate way, in my opinion, to enter such a debate. If satan=body, that makes him a pretty obvious rock n roll choice. I mean, why attack the 70s, 80s or 90s establishment when you can attack the historical root- the ancient and medieval church. I mean, they’re the one’s that started all this anti-body, anti-sex, anti-cheap fun riff raff to begin with right?
As a side note, isn’t it kind of weird that a society would set itself up where its easy to visualize pure evil, but pure good is, by definition, not visually accessible? Just sayin’.
Hieronymus Bosch (yes, I had to copy and paste his name) is probably the most metal of all medieval artists. Yes, he is in fact from the medieval period, albeit kind of late. Again, I’ll just flat out admit that I have no idea what his paintings are supposed to mean exactly. You would really think he was on drugs, although I’m guessing that he actually wasn’t, being the good Catholic that he was. But man, there’s all sorts of flying fishes, flowers coming out of people’s asses, a demon that’s literally shitting people into a hole. Its very intense and very metal.
Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, similar to Bosch in many ways, should also be mentioned here, although many of his most metal works are both very similar and of lesser quality than Bosch’s. The Triumph of Death is an exception to the last statement. I will also say that his depiction of the Tower of Babel (a copy hangs in my study) is quite epic, which is another aspect of metal. Epicness (?) is really important to metal, as it was to people during the medieval period. It’s important to lots of people though, but it seems to me the further back in time you go, the more epic the stories are. Maybe that’s another reason for the Christian imagery. I mean, depending on who you talk to, the Bible is and is not many things. I would say, however, that few could deny that the Bible is quite epic.
Caravaggio was also pretty metal, although he’s more Renaissance than medieval. Also, a lot of his paintings aren’t that metal, to tell you the truth. I’ll give him credit for the Medusa head (Greek mythology is also kind of metal), as well as the possibility that he murdered someone. I don’t know, I’m not in love with the guy, but I’d feel bad leaving him off the list.
The Black Death
One of the most metal topics in medieval art was the Black Death, Bubonic Plague, the Plague (all great metal band names btw). Its just a metal topic, I don’t know. It’s so metal its even kind of hard to explain. Hope you’ll enjoy a few examples.
Obviously, there’s really no point to this article, I just thought it would be fun. If anything, I hope to turn people on to some great artists, especially Dore, Bosch and Bruegel because while each is totally famous, sometimes I think that they don’t get enough exposure, especially to certain audiences. Also, its an interesting historiographical framework. I mean, we (historians) have imposed plenty of other subjectively constructed frameworks on the past (nation state, progress narrative, anything really- just read Hayden White, you’ll see what I mean), why not do something more fun. If not metal, how about Radical History as in like surfer radical, not politically radical. Think about it, it could be kind of postmodern or at the very least historical events would be connected only in the most nontraditional fashion. For example:
1965- Snowboards are invented- way radical.
1993- Bill Clinton, who loved weed and saxophones became president- totally radical.
1994- My friend Doug ate 6 burritos in one sitting- most radical.
See what I mean?
I must also admit that this article had absolutely nothing to do with Digital anything, and for that I’m sorry. I have no problem if anyone wants to make a mash-up of Gustave Dore’s artwork to metal music. Maybe his interpretation of Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner with Iron Maiden’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner? Just a thought.
Next time: I much more serious article on d.a.levy and new media.
Related Reading: Wikipedia: Dualism (sorry for all the wikipedia links by the way, i promise better research next time)