San Ignacio Exorcizando a un Poseso. Valdéz Leal, 1660-1664

Early Modern Europe was a religious culture. Religion existed beyond the church in social, political, and economical dealings. Demons lead active and participatory roles within that culture. Demonic possession was not only plausible but the number of those claiming to be possessed, in the sixteenth-century, spiked to epidemic proportions. Demonic possession occurred frequently enough in early modern Europe that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are called by demonological scholars, The Golden Age of Demonic Possession or The Golden Age of the Demoniac.

Though there is evidence of demonic possession in many different cultures in many different time periods the rate of demonic possession in early modern Europe is unprecedented.Demonic possession has been discussed in historical scholarship. Yet, images of demonic possession do not appear to have been the focus of study since 18th and 19th century psychologists studied demoniacs in art for mental illnesses.  Scholarship in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries focused on possession narratives as examples of mental illnesses such as hysteria or schizophrenia. Paul Marie Louis Pierre Richer and Jean-Martin Charcot studied the art depicting demoniacs in their book Les Démoniaques Dans L'art (1972). Sigmund Freud studied the diaries and paintings of a demoniac, Christoph Haizman, who documented his possession that began with a pact with the Devil. Freud emeployed many of his theories and methodologies to studying Haizman's possession. Charcot and Freud's analysies are post-Enlighenment reactions to the supernatural phenomena of demonic possession. I believe scholarship has had a difficult time overcoming these precedences. Some scholarship has been published in recent years studying ealry modern demonic possession as social history and socially constructed during the religiously fervent socieities of the Reformation. Most recently Brian Levack's The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West, studied possession narratives as examples of cultural theatrics. This Omeka site is unconcerned with rationalizing demonic possession. Instead, this project observes images of demonic possession as socially constructed by cultural theatrics. This project complies a collection of images that represent a span of early modern depictions of demonic possession.

The goal of this Omeka site is to allow variations of viewing to observe common themes in choices of iconography over time and stylistic changes throughout the centuries. One way to observe the natural progression is to view the timeline. The timeline (to the best of its ability) plots these images from the 13th century into the 19th century and includes important historical events in the Reformation. One major event and outcome of the religiously fervent societies of early modern Europe was the Reformation. The Reformation encouraged religious distinction between Protestants and Catholics in many parts of Europe in sometimes violent ways. Religious images became a part of those distinctions and Catholics used images to dramatize stories from the Bible, exhibit wealth, encourage remaining or converting people back to Catholicism as witnesses of the true religion. These images, therefore, are an aspect of cultural theatrics and display the process of cultural theatrics as a Catholic device during tumultuous times. One can also view groups of images through their tags such as; boy demoniac, female demoniac, male demoniac, biblical possession (in which Christ performs and exorcism from the Synoptic Gospels), demonic possession (in which a priest or saint performs the exorcism), and by medium of image. There is little to no scholarship studying images of demonic possession as a genre. This topic is open for a range of interpretations. Commentsand suggestions are encouraged.

Perhaps that most intriguing aspects thus far in this study is the idea of “other.” In a way demonic possession is the ultimate in “other” because a supernatural being has taken over someone’s body and that person is no longer themselves because they are not in control. A representation of someone possessed by a demon furthers the idea of the “other” in that there is no question of that person’s lack of humanity. Stylistically, throughout the early modern era, artists became more and more adamant about a demoniacs lack of humanity. And yet, demoniacs were predominantly women and children, demoniacs were someone’s family member or neighbor in small early modern European towns. It is questionable whether a demoniac is a victium or a sinner in the early modern mindset. This and other questions are hoped to be answered in different viewing areas of this collections of images.