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Angels and Demons in Art

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Following the conquest of Mesoamerica, the Spanish imposition of Catholicism thrived on taking what the indigenous already believed then tweaking it some to make it Catholic.

The afterlife is a theme frequently and significantly encountered in the sculptures and ceramics of pre-Hispanic times. Now with Spanish Catholicism angels and demons became permanent features in Mexican art as representative of life’s duality the indigenous adhered to. Basically, with the good comes the bad.

Judas Kiss Jesus Fresco Sanctuary of Jesus Atotonilco Mexico. Built-in the 1700s known as the Sistene Chapel of Mexico with Frescoes of Jesus Stories. Frescoes by Miguel Antonio Matinez between 1740 and 1775.

The point was twofold. First, you had to die to be able to return to God. Secondly, if naughty in this world, you were headed off to the devil’s inferno.

Mexico’s Colonial era paintings frequently featured people filled with dread about Hell. A fear of death was a popular theme in religious drama, poetry, dance and paintings between the 16th and 19th centuries in which angles and devils fought tenaciously for the possession of souls.

However, you don’t have to go back in time to view devils and angels battle in art. A stroll down the Artists’ Market provides ample modern examples.

Or venture out to Atotonilco whose famous frescoes always place a minion of Satan in every Crucifixion story depicted to easily identify the baddie in that part of the story.

Angels and devils have holiday mirth in the Christmas plays, pastorelas, when the seven deadly sins, disguised as devils, try to lead the pilgrims away from their trip to visit Jesus at his birth. Watch out for Lust and Gluttony as they are the funniest always wanting more of everything. Inevitably, the angelSt. Michael, banishes the devil and his minions before all hold hands to welcome Jesus’ birth in happy song!

Also Guanajuato is one of two Mexican areas to feature the devil in nativity sets. The devil is there realizing he or she (or Hershey) can delay the three Kings no longer as the devil’s distractions are why they arrive late.

Perhaps the most joyful expression of devils and angels is attending a kindergarten graduation. They normally feature a play were a bull/little boy in bull costume runs rampart around town. The kids, nuns, police and even St. Michael and the devil can’t get him to leave until his Mom arrives. Even a wild bull knows to do what his Mom tells him and he leaves as do the other child actors with their mothers.

Blending Catholic elements with ancestral concepts from the Pre-Hispanic past meet on common ground that angels and demons still dance around!

by Joseph Toone

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