The Fall of the Damned is one of the most extraordinary paintings in the history of mankind.
Kuadros brings you a little closer to its history and meaning.
Alternatively known as The Fall of the Rebel Angels, this is a religious painting attributed to Peter Paul Rubens .
The painting represents the bodies of the condemned angels being thrown into the abyss by the archangel Michael and his accompanying angels. The physical dimensions of this painting are enormous: 286cm × 224cm, and its theme was inspired by a passage from the Apocalypse, chapter 12:
“And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, the ancient serpent, called the devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world; this one was cast down to earth, and his angels were cast down with him.”
The work portrays the first confrontation between Good and Evil, even before the fall of man, when the most powerful angel, Lucifer, which means "bearer of light", rebels against the authority of God. After this, the rebellious angel is thrown from heaven by the Archangel Michael by order of God, causing the fall of the other rebellious angels.
Unlike the medieval representation of "evil", where Satan was represented in monstrous forms, wings, tails and deformed bodies, the Renaissance representation of the devil adheres more to the figure of Satyr (Silenus in Greek mythology) with horns and hooves. , in a clear reference to paganism.
Rubens uses this same reference to represent Satan. However, he turns to the monstrous bat-like creatures to show off the rest of the demons and "Evil" himself.
This masterpiece is as grand as it is impressive. The vertical design is dynamic and is tinted with an earthy palette for a warm look. The dark surroundings are illuminated by a hole in the clouds, from which beams of light shine towards hell.
Rubens used to portray biblical passages in color palettes, but this painting not only has a limited brown palette, it also has a much more intense and disturbing atmosphere. In the space between the clouds, it is possible to see a bit of blue sky in the background, veiled by the dark shapes as the cursed bodies fall into the abyss.
At the top of the clouds, banishing the evil crowd is Archangel Michael. The warrior angel wears red and blue robes that are rendered in a saturated shade of red, while holding a glowing shield that reflects light from above.
With Archangel Michael there is a source of yellow light, but the painting gets darker as it goes down, in an area colored by confused forms of suffering and damnation.
In the work it is possible to see snakes, lions, deformed animals, some monstrous forms and parts of human bodies. At times, it is difficult to tell if the figures are being attacked by these monstrous creatures or if they are merging with them, becoming hideous chimeras.
The human figures in the image show expressions of suffering and anguish. Bat-winged demonic creatures knock people down and bite and attack them. The bodies are contorted and naked, some are of a larger build, while others appear almost seductively, indicating the gluttony and lust of the seven deadly sins.
As the eye moves across the canvas, more monstrous-looking creatures can be seen. Animals with horns and claws seem to represent pagan mythological beings, dragging bodies downward while tearing at the living flesh.
With its gigantic size, this piece also gives the observer a clear and compelling reason not to sin. Its colossal size allows us to see in detail how unbearable hell holds in its bosom for the sinner.
This work of art is both gruesome and beautiful like no other for the level of detail. In it no sinner is saved. The devil does not discriminate, but we know Rubens was a fan of great ladies nonetheless, so there are definitely more of them represented in the painting than anything else. The favorite is the woman to the southwest of the painting's center who is perched on the back of a devil with its tail wrapped around her legs. His face says he'd rather not be there, but he knows what he did to lead her to her ghoulish fate.
In 1959, an artistic vandal threw acid on this extraordinary painting. Although it was restored, vandalism almost destroyed this jewel of humanity. Apparently, the content of the painting did nothing to deter the attacker from trying to ruin it, which is surprising based on how incredibly intriguing the work is.
Several drawings of this painting have survived, suggesting that Rubens may have planned to make an etching of the subject as he did many of his favorite works. But if this print were made, it would probably be in the attic of some castle gathering dust.
Rubens may have wanted to indicate that paganism is the enemy of Christianity through the way in which demons have been represented. By using creatures that are easily recognizable as satyrs, this is a very literal and visual representation of older beliefs.
Rubens' palette and use of chiaroscuro (the technique of using light to contract darkness) lends unique movement and vivid drama to the work, which almost feels like a falling waterfall, the demons creating the bubbling basin of misfortune.
The philosopher who attempted to damage the painting, Walter Menzl, felt that by attacking the work, he would draw attention to himself, allowing his philosophy of utopian universal peace to be recognized. What actually happened was that he was ordered to pay DM 80,000, which he couldn't pay off, for which he ended up spending 3 years in prison, his theories being completely ignored.
Fortunately for humanity, the painting was restored and now resides in the Alte Pinakothek museum in Munich.
What do Kuadros fans see in this magnificent work of art?
This painting will be a topic of conversation with your family and friends for many, many years.
The Fall Of The Damned is ranked no. 41 on the list of famous paintings