devil

FROM ANCIENT ART AND LITERATURE TO MODERN DAY TATTOO DESIGNS, THE “PRINCE OF DARKNESS” IS REGULARLY PORTRAYED AS BALD.

Whether or not a person believes in the devil (a.k.a. Satan, Lucifer, etc.), one thing is certain: no one has ever actually seen the dude. So why is it that if you pay a visit to your local neighborhood tattoo parlor and inspect their devil options, the vast majority of them will feature a smooth-headed Evil One with nary a hair on his little horned head?

It’s not just tattoo parlors, of course. Settle down to watch an episode of “South Park” and you might find Satan making one of his guest appearances – in all his bald glory. Devils that pop up in horror movies to be worshiped or to defile innocent young virgins are typically hairless up on top, as is Disney’s animated Satan in the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of “Fantasia.”

And comic books, arguably the most basic of pop culture commodities, have long featured a wide array of de-follicled demons. For decades, Harvey Comics, publisher of “Richie Rich” and “Casper,” also put out the adventures of Hot Stuff, a little boy devil who was devoid of any hair. Jack T. Chick, who claims to have published 750 million fundamentalist “Chick tracts,” pictures the main Christian adversary similarly. Underground comics legend S. Clay Wilson made much of his reputation chronicling the ups and downs of his Checkered Demon, a particularly ugly devil who is noticeably deficient in the hair department. And while Marvel’s Son of Satan has flowing locks, the father of said Son very definitely does not – not even on the second head that sprouts from his stomach.

“I would agree that, in terms of contemporary representations, Satan is typically bald.” – Allan T. Kohl, Minneapolis College of Art & Design

Satan with hair loss: There are exceptions

There are definitely exceptions, of course. Neil Gaiman, in his “Sandman” comics, depicts a Lucifer with long, lustrous hair. Movies in which the devil appears as a real character who interacts with people, rather than just a force of evil, tend to depict the character in “hairy” terms. And some contemporary visual representations like to give Satan a sleek, formfitting black cut, usually with a widow’s peak in the front.

But by and large, modern images of the devil seem to favor the bald look, an opinion backed up by Allan T. Kohl, Visual Resources Librarian & Lecturer in Art History at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design.

“I would agree that, in terms of contemporary representations, especially in religious publications, Satan is typically bald,” says Kohl, who has taught courses in the history of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance art and whose photographs have been included in the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University.

“But,” he adds, “that’s a very recent way to depict the devil. In the overwhelming majority of historic representation up through the 19th century, generally, Satan has hair, and lots of it – wild hair, Bart Simpson-y hair, that’s tangled and matted.”

Kohl mentions that there are a few exceptions, such as Luca Signorelli’s work in the San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto, which do feature some generally hairless devils. But he emphasizes that these are exceptions, at least until around the end of the 19th century.

In fact, for many periods of history, pictorial representations of Satan have tended to be less humanoid and more bestial. Jeffrey Burton Russell’s “Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages” points out that the devil was generally depicted as a humanoid from the ninth through the eleventh centuries, but then spent several centuries being depicted much more often as a monstrous non-human animal.

A 20th-century view

Why “bald” representations became more common after the 19th century is unclear. When asked, Kohl says he would be guessing considerably, but that part of the reason might be related to the enormous popularity of Charles Gounod’s opera, “Faust,” which premiered in 1859 and in which the devil was presented with a fitted cap around his head, giving the impression of having no hair.

“The opera was tremendously popular and it spilled over into other aspects of popular culture and advertising,” Kohl says.

For whatever reason, this association between baldness and the devil in popular culture seems to have stuck, and is presumably related to the popularity of bald villains such as Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, Superman’s arch-foes Lex Luthor and Brainiac and Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers.”

Some find this association between lack of hair and extreme evil disturbing. Hopefully as our culture evolves, this association will diminish. No one minds being thought a little devilish, but is likened to a full-fledged devil is another matter.