Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mammon: development and symbolism

Photo, concept, manipulation, styling, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Model: Federico Romano
Hair, assistant: Nebulosamente
Additional resources: Amptone-stock (textures), Darklaela-stock (wings), Myruso (wallpaper)

Mammon from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary
Like all the Demons related to the Seven Deadly Sins, I first found out about Mammon thanks to Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary, where he makes a couple of cameos. Although it was even given a couple of lines of speech, the character was not very developed as, according to the author, it was rather difficult to draw, so it was only quickly described in the side notes. I found it fascinating nonetheless and I did some researches on my own. Provided that Mammon was just the concept of Greed itself or the worship of riches in the Old Testament, it was eventually turned into an actual false god in the New Testament and subsequently demonised, in particular during the Middle Ages. He’s found as the Demon of Greed in Peter Binsfeld’s classification, and later even in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Other accounts say he came from the lesser angelic Choir, so I had pretty much all I needed to know. Graphically, Kaori Yuki’s depiction is very similar to the one from the lore, which represents Mammon as a winged humanoid figure with claws and the head of a bird of prey. Quite fascinating, all in all, and surely inspiring.
Popular depiction of Mammon, author unknown
Popular depiction of Mammon, author unknown.
All of this happened around November 2009, right after I kicked off the project. The idea of a bird-headed man would contradict my general concept for the series, so I had to come up with a fitting alternative which would give the idea of a bird without spoiling the human looks of the Demon. I got quite enthusiastic about it, as I saw it as a very interesting challenge and my first major departure from Kaori’s influence. It was about the time when Parnassus was released and, although I hadn’t see the movie (I’m not much of a cineast), I saw Heath Ledger’s character with the plague-doctor Venetian mark, and thought it would be a fitting idea for the peck. I tried to sketch the character (quite fittingly on the notebook during my economy class – lol!), portraying it as elegant but much more sober than many other Demons. I also had the idea to comb the model’s hair in a bun and put diverging feathers in it to strengthen the bird connection and reprise the messy feathery head of the original source.
An awfully drawn Mammon draft; anatomy just took a day off
An awfully drawn Mammon draft; anatomy just took a day off.
So, all in all, the concept came up rather early and easily. The fitting model did not, which is kind of weird, as I did not have any particular requirements. He did not have to be breathtakingly beautiful as most of his face would be covered by the mask, nor did I expect a particularly refined body, which would be completely covered. The only important thing was the hair, which had to be dark blond or light brown to recall gold, and long enough to be tied in a bun. Now, you would expect to find someone like that quite easily among fellow goths or even regular metalhead, but hell to the no. The first guy I considered cut his hair short and dyed it black some few days before I decided to ask him; the second only posed for a friend of his and was not comfortable, nor interested, in doing so for other photographers; the third was just... meh, and I kept him as the very last ditch, as his face would be covered anyway; the fourth was better-looking and apparently interested in the project, but lived far away, and when I went there for other business and tried to organize the photoshoot, we had some timing problems, so I dropped the thing and kept him as the penultimate ditch.
Out of discouragement, I asked some friends if they knew somebody with the freaking long, golden hair, and one told me that Federico, a friend of his, would be in Trieste for a couple of days later that week. Unexpectedly, despite the short time, everything went incredibly smooth: we got in touch, met for a talk, arranged the shooting and took the photo within three days; the work was finished and published that same day. I almost could not believe it, after so much trouble.
The symbolism of the work is all bird or Greed-oriented: I’ve already mentioned the mask and feathers; the the elegant yet somber outfit symbolises wealth but a certain parsimony; the white wings were simply more fitting than dark ones, without any particular meaning. As you can see in the draft, they were supposed to be covered in jewels to further remark the Greed concept, as in pawn pledges taken from his victims. While at the time I shot the photo that was just beyond my photomanipulation skills and I had to give up, after some five years I finally found the right way to get it done: I had a pair of white wings lent, I covered them in my mother’s jewels, I shot them and I blended them into the pre-existing wings. Despite being a well-known Demon, Mammon is not listed in The Lesser Key Of Solomon, so lacks a Seal. I borrowed Crocell’s, as the wings recalled the bird motif. No need to explain why the theme-colour is gold, I guess. The theme-song, The Ravens by Tristania, was simply perfect, as it talks both of greed and birds. The Norwegian line means “we shall be to the Earth”, which could be a further reference to Mammon’s Fall.

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