Mediaeval Demons

Detail from Giovanni da Modena's Inferno frescoDemons formed an important part of Christian iconography during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, when they were used to deter immoral behaviour by dramatizing its inevitable punishment. Demons were depicted in a huge variety of forms, combining both humanoid and animal features, and were often explicitly sexual in nature. It was common, for example. to depict demons with a secondary face in their genital region—as can be seen here in a detail from a fresco by Giovanni da Modena in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. This depicts a scene from Dante’s vision of Hell (“The Inferno”), showing a whole host of demons of various shapes and sizes persecuting sinners. Many of the demons appear to be raping or sodomizing their victims.

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