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The Lilith – past and present

I’m not an art historian. I wish I had the kind of mind that could contain and examine the history of the visual arts, but I do have favorite subjects and enjoy researching them in the hope of adding to the conversation through my own work.

I’m a little late for Halloween, but I’ll be dedicating this post to one of mythologies most hated witchy women, Lilith. Her purpose and definition changes with time and location. She’s a storm demon, a screech owl, a succubus, Adam’s first and rebellious wife, killer of infants, an ancient kidnapped queen, or the tempting serpent in the garden of eden. The feminist in me can’t help but to be fascinated.

Her image over time has gotten combined with other female demons from many different cultures. She’s a femme fatal. A magical, rebellious female character punished for being willful.

My favorite version of her story is that she was Adam’s first wife. Lilith was already on earth(imagine that) and God picked her up and placed her in Eden to be Adam’s mate. She refused to be dominated by Adam and eventually escaped Eden(I guess a sorta first divorce?). She settled by the Red Sea, made out with demons and then was cursed by God after she refused to return to Eden and Adam. She was condemned to spend eternity as a succubus/murderer of infants. Not very fair is it? You can read some other versions of her story at

Wikipedia also does a good job summing up the various stories and linking to other sources.

Below are some slivers of older paintings depicting Lilith as the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Admittedly I am not Christian, but I grew up assuming the serpent was supposed to be a personification of Satan yet here are Christian paintings depicting the serpent as a woman. In some ways they remind me of Gorgons/Medusa, depictions of Hygeia or even Cleopatra on her death bed. Women and snakes. Women and snakes. How very chthonic.

From left to right, Bosch’s Paradise and Hell, Michelangelo’s The Original Sin and Expulsion from Paradise detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Hugo Van Der Goes’ The Fall of Adam and Eve Tempted by the Snake, Bosch’s The Fall of Adam and Eve left panel of the Haywain Triptych

More Modern depictions of Lilith shown below are by Chet Zar, Tara Macpherson

Creepmachine did a nice interview with Chet Zar about this Lilith inspired paintings.

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The Artist as Predator

Tribly, artist figure model

If I was good at writing I’d spend a lot of space here talking about how movies and drama have treated the artist as a madman(rather than woman) similarly to the mad scientist of many a horror film and book. The below examples don’t necessarily match that concept, but they are creepy stories featuring artists and art.

Trilby, pictured above and played by Marian Marsh, is a story by George Du Maurier and published in the early 20th century. Trilby, the protagonist, is a young English girl living in Paris and earning a living as a figure model. She is hypnotized by the evil Svengali, a brilliant but villainess musician…

I believe you can watch the movie version of Trilby on Netflix under the title Svengali. Better yet, read it for free through Google books. You can download a pdf of it. I’m honestly only halfway through it and have been reading it on my nook.
Trilby by George Du Maurier

Bluebeard, a story about a man who … ya know, kills his wives, was made into a movie. The villain’s role was changed into that of an artist. He paints portraits of women then murders them. Freaky puppets are also involved. Watch the 1944 version of Bluebeard on Hulu.

I also collect radio horror plays. The two linked below are on topic! The First is a story about two French art students who roam the countryside in search of inspiration. The second play is about a ceramicist searching for a perfect ingredient in order to achieve an unusual glaze to his work. You can download the plays or listen to them online.

Fear on Four’s By the River Fountainebleau

Nightfall’s Glaze of Perfect Beauty

There are many other examples of creepy stories where either the art or artist is menacing, like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray or just about any movie that involves ventriloquists and dummies.

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The Symbolist Sphinx

The Symbolist Sphinx

1. Fernand_Khnopff – The Caress, 2. Sphinx , 3. bernard1, 4. the sphinx by Von Stuck

Not much to say, just pretty things to see.

I really wish I knew more about the lower left image. Supposedly it’s a black and white image of a painting by William Sargeant Kendall, and is called The Sphinx. This is kinda believable and kinda not. If you look at other black and white images of his work, you can see some similarities, but this work was supposedly done at a time when photography was new and also when similar images were taken of actress Theda Bara, as Suzanne of Wurzeltod points out to me here. Perhaps Kendall had seen those images and was also inspired by other symbolist sphinx works by Knopf, Von Stuck and other artists.

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ouija ouija ouija

Who knew Norman Rockwell illustrated a couple playing with a Ouija board? I love this. I hope I can find a print of it someday. Once upon a time I wanted to arrange a talking board show where artists designed their own versions. Someone else beat me to it. Copronason put on a rad show dealing with that exact subject. Maybe I could arrange another one in the future. There are also some great sites out there that catalog all the different versions of spirit boards and their history. If interested you should check out the Museum of Talking Boards or I also recently purchased a hand carved planchette on from Lejans Wood Creations and am eager to get it.

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Inspiration & Shared Influences

I have been salivating over these silver planchette rings on etsy for ages now, and was thrilled to realize that the artist behind them also had a piece in the Speaking in Tongues show in Philly! I contacted her and showed her my work and we’ve both been amused at sharing so many of the same influences. Her name is JL Shnabel and she is a painter, jewelry maker and writer based in Philadelphia PA.
blood milk ouija

Check out her art blog and etsy shop for more spiritualist and magic inspired jewelry.