I just found another Pre-Raphaelite painter whose name I didn’t know but who made some works which I recognize. The paintings shown in this post are ones I don’t recall having seen before. Compared to some of the other Pre-Raphaelites, his work seems centered more on portraits and accounts from the Bible. His name is John Everett Millais, and he was evidently quite popular during his lifetime.
The Return of the Dove to the Ark (1851). This is taken from the account of Noah and the Ark from the book of Genesis.
Victory O Lord! (1871). This is from the account of a battle in which the priests needed to keep the hands of Moses aloft during the Exodus of the Hebrew nation.
The Tribe of Benjamin Seizing the Daughters of Shiloh (1847). This event comes at the end of perhaps one of the most disturbing stories in the Bible. It is found in the book of Judges. The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart. Then again, it is.
Esther (1865). From the book of Esther, this evidently shows her preparing to go into the king of the Medes and Persians to plead for the lives of the Jews in captivity.
I must start by admitting that the above picture is inaccurate, but I will get to that later. The following painting by Raphael shows what cherubim (plural for cherub in the Old Testament) are not: fat babies with wings.
I am only familiar with these creatures from the Judeo Christian tradition. They are described as guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis) and as appearing to the prophet Ezekiel in a vision he had during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel). The latter account also refers to them as “living creatures” stationed around the throne of God. They are described as having four faces: that of a lion, that of an ox, that of an eagle, and that of a man. They also have four wings full of eyes, the hands of a man and the feet of a cow. It has been suggested that their appearance is symbolic (e.g. ox as servant, lion as ruler, etc.) and should not be taken literally.
This description may seem grotesque to some, intriguing or even cool to others. It also defies artistic representation, but this hasn’t stopped people from trying. A golden sculpture of two cherubim facing each other on the Mercy Seat ( or lid) of the Ark of the Covenant is described in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). In the photograph of a re-creation below, each is shown as a kneeling human figure with two wings, and both are shown facing each other with their wingtips touching. The truth, however, is that we don’t really know exactly what these figures looked like.
By the way, the above image might remind you of what the Ark looked like in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie version shows pretty good agreement with scholarly opinion, but all scriptural accuracy in the movie ends there.
Large statues of two cherubim were stationed behind the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the inner and most sacred chamber in the temple built by Solomon. They were allegedly human figures, each with two wings, and two of their wings touched in the center between them while the other two extended to the walls. Again, we cannot be entirely sure of what they looked like.
Depicting the description from chapters 1 and 10 of the book of Ezekiel is more problematic. Here is an attempt from around 1200 (A. D. or C. E., depending on your preference of notation).
Oops! On closer examination this looks more like a seraph with six wings instead of four, but I’ll keep it, anyway, because I like the colors.
Here is another from a different church, as nearly as I could make out the rather obscure reference I found. Well… the heads of an eagle, an ox, a lion, and a man are shown as described in the book of Ezekiel, but it appears to have six wings. Is this a cherub-seraph hybrid?
The following illustration is one for which I could not obtain a credit, but it shows what I said about the difficulty and aesthetics (or lack thereof) of portrayal earlier in this post.
In my drawing at the top of this post, I chose to take a simpler approach. Honestly, I just wanted to draw this concept (I like eagles, as did my mother when she was still alive), and I found a way to include it in my story in a way that added some additional meaning to the plot. I envisioned a huge, four-winged, four legged eagle and left it at that. I will conclude with the following drawing of a cherub being placated by Anni, the Valkyrie.
The original Chimera is a creature from Greco Roman mythology which has the head of a lion, the head (or body) of a goat, and the tail of a serpent (often represented with a serpent’s head). The earliest reference we have is from the Iliad by Homer. Shown below is an intriguing Etruscan bronze, the Chimera of Arezzo, from the 4th Century, A. D.
Going back even further, there is this Greco Roman mosaic from Palmyra, 3rd Century, A. D. It depicts the battle in which Bellerophon slays the Chimera while riding on Pegasus, the winged horse which he tamed with the help of the goddess, Athena.
As is often the case in mythology, it all started with a woman. Bellerophon resists the efforts of Sthenoboea, the wife of King Proteus, to seduce him. Angry at being jilted, she levels accusations against him. This is reminiscent of the tale of Joseph resisting the efforts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce him. The latter is found in the book of Genesis from the Old Testament and is, incidentally, the older account.
Anyway, King Iobates of Lycia, the father of Sthenoboea, assigns Bellerophon a number of heroic tasks, including the slaying of the Chimera. Athena gives our hero a golden bridle which will enable him to mount and ride Pegasus. In this next painting, Athena can be seen standing in the background.
I will end this post with another depiction of the ensuing battle.
The term, Lindorm, is both Danish and Swedish. Depending on its use, it can be synonymous with Lindworm, used in reference to any giant serpent, or used to represent a sea serpent.
I’m sure there’s a plausible answer, but I wonder how cultures from cold, northern climates developed mythologies with huge, reptilian monsters.
There is an interesting folktale called Prince Lindorm (also King Lindorm, Prince Lindworm, and King Lindworm) that has been called Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. Let’s just say it’s Scandinavian. This tale has generated a bit of modern fan art. It has also been portrayed by professional illustrators. I especially like the older examples. I’m not entirely certain as to who did the following illustration. Owing to its similarity to the next one, I’m inclined to attribute it (tentatively) to Henry Justice Ford, but I could be wrong.
You can find various versions of this tale in their entirety and for free by typing in the title on a word search. I won’t provide links due to their number. One element they all seem to have in common is the one shown above. A prince under a curse exists as a Lindorm and demands a bride. A number don’t make the cut and are messily dismembered. Finally, one tries a different approach. Wearing multiple gowns, she insists first that the snake shed his skin when he orders her to undress. He does so, and she removes one gown. This process is repeated until the Lindorm is an almost shapeless mass. The maiden then scrubs away the offending flesh to reveal a handsome prince.
The theme of serpents and maidens is VERY old and rather widespread in mythology and in folktales. Here is an image which I can attribute to Henry Justice Ford:
I know it’s not the same thing, but I can’t help but notice the similarity of these images to the Genesis account of the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden (one version of how all the trouble started, but keep in mind that Adam was also described as culpable in that account). This has been represented so many times that I suffered from choice anxiety when choosing images for this post. I opted for variety, including selections from William Blake…
… to this interesting, more cartoonish, and different cultural perspective by David-Dennis…
…to this oddly chimeric take by Jon Roddam Spencer Stanhope…
… and a similar but older adaptation by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
This seems like as good a place as any to stop (or would it be better to say begin?).
p.s. For moral purposes, let me say that Eve is portrayed without clothing in all of these examples because, well… she was.
Since I like to create my own mythologies in the books that I write, I am fascinated by a modern pantheon that has really caught on in popular culture: the Disney Marvel franchise. For this next series of posts, I will limit my comments to what has been revealed in these movies up to this point in time. It would be foolish of me to reveal my woeful unfamiliarity with the actual graphic novels. The films are a bit of an anomaly for the superhero genre in that they feature outstanding writing, production, directing, acting, AND special effects. They work on several levels.
What I would like to key on are some of the mythological elements in these productions, especially certain god-like characters. It could be argued that, while abnormally powerful, they are not portrayed as full-fledged spiritual beings, but this is not a foregone conclusion. Though they are somewhat “scientifically” explained, the Marvel characters I will mention in later posts are not unlike the members of the Greek pantheon. These gods were physical enough that they sometimes procreated with mortals to produce demigods. Nor is this concept of embodied spirituality foreign to Judaism and Christianity. In the book of Genesis, there is a description of Abraham entertaining angels, who actually ate the food he offered them. In the New Testament gospels, we can read of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these and other cases, the boundaries between the spiritual and the physical are described as rather fluid.