Daniel Hopfer (c.1470-1536), Old Women Thrashing the Devil
Etching, 22.3 x 15.6 cm (8.8 x 6.2″), purchased at a recent European auction
“Gib Frid (Let me go!),” cries the devil, held to the ground, his pitchfork broken, by three old women pounding him with what I take to be bread boards, as four of his demonic auxiliaries hover nearby in the air, impotent and looking on in alarm.
Artists of the Northern Renaissance apparently viewed the variety of the forms of Nature with considerable suspicion, picturing the devil as an amalgamation of animal and avian forms: with head combining lion, goat, and dragon; limbs of lizard; birds’ heads for knee and elbow joints; and a boar’s head for a phallus.
Hopfer is attempting to convey the moral that life’s labors, the wife’s domestic chores symbolized by the bread boards, pursued with assiduity, may prove a weapon which can effectively defeat temptation.