Sketch for The Death of Sardanapalus, c. 1827
Der Bapstesel zu Rom (The Pope-Ass of Rome), from pamphlet published by Martin Luther and Phillip Melanchthon, 1523, woodcut, Cornell University Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, Ithaca, New York
This woodcut depicts a beast supposedly discovered in the Tiber in 1496. It is a composite of an ass, a cock, a snake or lizard, a man’s face, and the most horrifying monster of all, *shudder*, woman. Martin Luther, leader of the protestant reformation, uses the image here to satirize Pope Alexander VI.
The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Albrecht Dürer (German), 1513, engraving, 25.5 x 20 cm, Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Christian Knight rides forth with his faithful hound, undistracted by the pig-snouted devil pursuing him, or death on his emaciated horse taunting him. One so inclined might praise this as a depiction of moral rectitude in the face of adversity, but we at Fuck Yeah, Art History! are not of that inclination, and are far more interested in the beasties.
Pallas and the Centaur, Sandro Botticelli (Italian), c. 1482, tempera on canvas, 204 cm × 147.5 cm, Uffizi, Florence
No one really knows what it happening in this painting. For no apparent reason, Pallas Athena is holding a centaur by the hair. Mythological scenes were particularly fashionable at the time Botticelli painted this, but this scene corresponds to no known episode involving Athena. Perhaps it is an allegory of the power of the mind (Athena) over savage impulses (the centaur), but really no one knows.
Later in his life, Botticelli became a follower of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who caused him to eventually give up painting altogether. It is quite possible that the Dominican friar even induced the artist to burn his paintings on pagan themes in the 1497 Bonfire of the Vanities, which would make us quite lucky to still have this painting, as impenetrable as it is.