Front Cover – The Last Judgement (detail) 1535

Hans Schaufelein (1480-1540)

Musée des Beaux Arts - Nancy





Hank Smallshovel was an apprentice in Durer’s workshop. He never quite got the hang of accurate drawing even under the tutelage of Germany’s greatest draughtsman. What he did have, in common with most 15th century artists was a fascination with hell and its demons. Grunewald, an almost exact contemporary, created more terrifying satanic chimeras (see p29 ) but Hank stuck with images from the farmyard and the forest. The principal demon has feet like a chicken, arms like a bat and a head like a dog. But that floppy eared pooch wouldn’t scare anyone today – we see much fiercer things on leads in the park. From its furry arse depends a yellow scrotal sac; repulsive but hardly scary. His pal, a thing of darkness, would be almost cuddly were it not for the withered dug. So not Janet Jackson with a wardrobe malfunction but it could be Little Richard cranking up to sing Twist and Shout.

Last Judgements usually depict naked sluts being carted off to the hellhole. Always a good selling point. I guess Aquinas had such pictures in his study, perhaps behind a curtain or in reproduction small enough to hold in one hand. But what horror of hell could be worse than being held upside down like the poor bloke over the demon’s shoulder? It’d make you feel very odd.

Medieval cathedrals are full of such scenes – usually on the west front - but the age of the satanic chimera was coming to an end – there aren’t any in the Sistine Chapel although that got redecorated about the same time.

Today we’ve progressed beyond all that. What do we fear most at death’s door? The approach of Sir Jimmy fiddling with something in his tracksuit bottoms? Sir Cyril Smith proffering, at groin level, a small stick of Blackpool rock for a final comforting suck? The six o clock news? Give me satanic chimeras every time.