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Cantor Arts Center exhibition depicts Satan and his realm through five centuries of art
Johannes Sadeler (Belgium, 1550–1600), Hell, c. 1590. Engraving. Lent by Kirk Edward Long.

STANFORD, CA.- To celebrate the arrival on campus of Jackson Pollock’s Lucifer—one of the most important works in the new Anderson Collection at Stanford University—the Cantor Arts Center presents an exhibition that explores the fascinating evolution of artists’ depictions of the devil and his realm through the past 500 years. Prints, drawings paintings, and sculptures from the 16th through 21st centuries reveal the archfiend’s transformation from a horned and cloven-footed fallen angel to the debonair Mephistopheles to the evil hidden within those responsible for the horrors of modern society.

Sympathy for the Devil: Satan, Sin, and the Underworld includes more than 40 works, primarily from the Cantor’s collection. The exhibition opens to the public on August 20 and continues on view through December 1, 2014.

“As the keepers of the Rodin Sculpture Garden’s Gates of Hell, we thought it would be interesting to explore the visual history of the devil and his realm,” says Bernard Barryte, Cantor curator of European art. “We found that artists have had great freedom in their depictions of the devil. The Old Testament and the Christian gospels offered little specificity—only that he was a powerful, deceiving adversary of God.”

Before the 16th century, artists borrowed features from the Arcadian god Pan and from Celtic, Egyptian and Near Eastern deities. During the Renaissance, artists found inspiration in accounts by Homer, Dante and Virgil. As works on view reveal, by the 16th century the devil is generally depicted as a horned beast, as in the engraving Lucifer by Cornelis Galle. Later, when Lucifer’s revolt against God was reinterpreted as a revolt against tyranny, Lucifer evolved into a dark romantic hero as seen in Jean-Jacques Feuchère’s sculpture Mephistopheles.

Interestingly, in the 20th century, graphic representation of the devil largely disappears. Hell seemingly becomes an aspect of this world, a notion summarized in Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation, “Hell is the others.” Its denizens are ordinary people who do horrible things, as in Jerome Witkin’s painting The Devil as Tailor, in which Satan appears as a tailor stitching the attire of those involved in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.

The exhibition also features Albrecht Dürer’s Harrowing of Hell; several versions of the Last Judgment, including a painting from the school of Hieronymous Bosch; allegories by Pieter Brueghel representing the sins that condemn people to torments by the devil and his demons; and images of witches, such as Louis Boulanger’s frenetic Sabbath, depicting those who choose to serve the Devil. Also included are images of the Greco-Roman underworld that contributed to the Christian concept of Hell as a realm of eternal punishment.

Other artists represented in the show are Hendrick Goltzius, Jacques Callot, Gustav Doré and Max Beckmann. Works are drawn from the Cantor’s permanent collection and on loan from Stanford Library’s Special Collections, Kirk Edward Long and Barbara and James Palmer.

The Gates of Hell and the Cantor’s Collection
Visitors to Sympathy for the Devil will also enjoy Auguste Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, on permanent display in the Cantor’s Rodin Sculpture Garden. The French government commissioned the monumental bronze work in 1880 as a portal for a proposed museum of decorative art. Rodin took Dante’s Inferno as his theme and worked on the project for more than two decades, incorporating motifs from the poems of Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire as his ideas developed. But the museum was never built, and the original Gates of Hell, now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, became a matrix for posthumous casts. The Cantor bronze, cast in 1985, is the fifth, and the first made using the lost wax technique.

The Cantor’s cast is also one of 20 major works in the B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden, which is open all hours with lighting for nighttime viewing. The museum displays approximately 200 additional Rodin works, including the monumental Thinker, in three galleries, making Stanford’s collection of Rodin bronzes one of the world’s largest. Docents lead free tours of the Rodin Collection Wednesdays at 2 pm, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., rain or shine.

All in all, the Cantor’s encyclopedic collection includes more than 40,000 artworks.

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