Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mephistophel: development and symbolism

Photo, concept, manipulation, styling, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Model: Wishes to remain uncredited
Hair, make up, assistant: Nebulosamente
Additional resources: Amptone-stock (textures), Nightgraue (wings)

Mepistophel (more commonly Mephistopheles) is one of the most well-known demonic figures in Western culture, to the point that he’s often identified as Satan himself and his name is used as a synonym for “the Devil”. He is derived from the German legend of Doctor Faust, a dissatisfied scholar who makes a deal with the Devil’s rapresentative, Mephistopheles, to sell his soul in exchange for superior knowledge, magical powers and a life of pleasure with Mephistopheles serving him with his powers. After his death, according the original accounts, he’s damned and his soul is carried to Hell by Mephistopheles. The legend was so influential that it was turned into many literary and theatrical works, most notably Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and originated a zillion other interpretations, some even portraying Mephistopheles as an agent of God who simply carries away souls which are already corrupted. Cut it short, there was more than enough material not only to sketch but also to base a character on.
Mephistopheles Flying over Wittenberg by Eugène Delacroix (1828)
Mephistopheles Flying over Wittenberg by Eugène Delacroix (1828).
Graphically speaking, Mephistopheles’ common representation is rather generic, basically the very stereotype of the Devil, so I had to “customise” it. When making up the character, I mostly drew from the popular imagery, with some twist every now and then: he’s a lieutenant of Azazel, he writes the contracts and make Mortals sign them with blood (thus purchasing their soul) and provides them with powers. In my interpretation, it’s the mere power to summon the competent Goetic Demon, who will be in charge of the Mortal needs (for instance: if the Mortal needs knowledge in astronomy, Mephistophel will make a contract between him and Andrealphus and give to the victim the power to summon him, leaving up the rest to Andrealphus). His function is essentially bureaucratic, so I would portray him as a dark, fashionable and fascinating lawyer/notary in the exact act of luring some innocent to sell their soul for whatever futile reason. Hence, the symbolism: he’s holding the contract in one hand and giving the pen to his victim with the other after dipping it in the other’s blood. As for the name, out of all the different options I chose “Mephistophel” because it’s the most fitting in my series. Many Angels have their names ending in -el, so it would fit the Fallen Angel motif better than any alternate spelling.
On a funny side note: the contract. Geez, that was the most difficult part of the work, even longer than the make up and hairdo, and it even turned out to be just a minor detail in the photo. First of all, my assistant Linda and I had to get some parchment effect on the paper and I came up with the idea of using the Amélie Poulain method: washing the sheet in tea and drying it with a hairdryer like in the movie. The result was less than impressive, but at least it was something. Then the writing: we had no idea about what to put on it, so the model came up with the idea of printing a quote of Goethe’s Faust. Problem solved: I installed the needed font on Linda’s computer, put Mephistophel’s seal at the bottom of the page and tried to get it printed. To no avail, as the printer just refused to work. Linda and I tried to reinstall the drivers, update them with no results, until we resolved to bring her older laptop to life, install the printer on that one and finally have the whole thing done. So basically: make up time = 15 minutes; shooting time = 3 minutes, even less; printing the contract = more than 2 hours. Heck!
Mephistophel by GothicNarcissus: detail
Mephistophel by GothicNarcissus – detail. Click to enlarge.
The theme-colour is called khaki, and I used it because it’s a common military colour and Mephistophel is a very active member of the Army (although with diplomatic duties). Despite having entire gothic metal discographies on my computer, finding a fitting theme-song for Mephistophel proved quite difficult. Soul trade is not as popular as one would expect among gothic metal bands. I eventually opted for Hatred by Gothminister because I couldn’t find anything better, but then I found  Torn To Pieces by Susanne Sundfør and it was just perfect!

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