Jean Delville (Lovaina,1867 – Forest, 1953) is one of intriguish painters of fin de siécle. He never wanted to talk about his paintings and also critics didn´t talk about them too. So, there is a place to speculate about their meaning. Delville is considered one of the Belgian Symbolists. If you have visited previously my blog you know they are my favourites…
Delville trained in the Beaux Arts Academy in Brussels and moved later to Glasgow, so I´m sure he was seduced by these two magical places. He belonged to occultist circles, concretely Sâr Peladan’s Rose Croix, in which Art exhibitions Jean participated. This sympathy for the occult as Teosophy influenced directly in his paintings: a lot of criptic symbols appear in them.
Today I want to talk about The treasures of Satan (1895), a theme which I like so much. The representation of the Devil in 19th century suffered a transformation in comparison with traditional ways. The being with horns and tail, looking like a reptile, a monster starts to change its aspect to a more humanized shape. One of the clues of this change was the recovering of Milton’s Paradise Lost in 19th century. There Satan is the rebel angel, as beautiful as God, at the same level and he´s condemned for his rebellion. One of the most intriguing devils of the end of the 19th century could be Rodin’s Thinker (this is my interpretation, because he belonged originally to the composition The gates of Hell) and Von Stuck’s Lucifer, which is very close to it (the same position and attitude and human shape).
Now it´s time to talk about Delville conception of Satan and his followers. This painting is unique: in iconography, in composition and in colors. There is no other Devil like Delville’s one.
In iconography, Satan has human shape, but surrounding him there are a kind of reptile tails or arms, he is a foreshortened figure, it seems he is fighting or dragging with the people condemned in Hell. All those people are lied down, nude and in positions that suggest a sexual attitude. It´s like an orgy. The composition suggest a kind of river of bodies that comes from the impulse of Satan, the bodies current flows over a strange landscape, the landscape of Hell. And just the colors are golden and orange, suggesting the fire.
This painting, perhaps, is not pretty but outrageous and surely was not indifferent to Delville’s contemporary observers. It´s 2010 and I keep on being intrigued by it… Take a look and think about what Delville thought about Hell and his Master Satan.