THE GORDION KNOT OF HISTORY
It turns out that a dragon was a symbol of Christianity. So was a foot, which represented pilgrimage. Drawing in the Met, I realized that Christianity had spread all over the Middle East long before Islam. It incorporated all the fantastic animals of the Shamanistic religions that preceded it.
Thanks to the movies, the co-mingled Egyptian animal-human gods are old friends. But who ever heard of a Senmurv, a rocking-horse-like winged creature with a peacock tail?
All the early Christian exhibits are full of these strange co-mingled creatures: bird-headed lions, griffins, dragons, hippogriffs, pigs with wings. By the Middle Ages, artists were using them to populate Hell, most famously Hieronymus Bosch. The ancients combined lions and eagles and bulls. Bosch used animals he saw in Holland: frogs, birds, cats, mice, rabbits. Gradually these conglomerate fiends disappeared from Christian art, and all that is left of them now are those gargoyles on Notre Dame.
Heaven got the winged deities.
The visual depictions of angels evolved from those Shamanistic figures, from fiery six-winged Seraphim to Cupid-inspired cherubs. And this powerful winged male figure: our dear and familiar djinn with a human head: the Archangel.
Next: A PRIDE OF LIONS