Contextual-What is the place of the werewolf in visual culture

The placement of Werewolves or Lycanthropes and its portrayal in visual culture when explored fully may ratify or disprove the symbiotic nature with which this myth and its subsequent mythology have changed with visual culture.  It is understood that many mythologies have basic tenants originally defined as a way of recording and understanding an individual society’s origin or beliefs, or as a means of portraying acceptable and safe social practice amongst its members. One of the most singularly reoccurring and central figures in mythology is the wolf, werewolf, lycanthrope or grim.

Fig 1, 2, 3

The wolf as deity or origin story occurs in four of the seven continents. The two most predominant of these myths in antiquity is the Egyptian, and with the pre Muslim Turks, Asena. Some religious theologians such as Desiderius Erasmus have speculated that “man is to man either a god or a wolf” Erasmus, D. (2013). Eloge de la folie. 1st ed. Paris: D. de Selliers.

Fig 4

This paradigm is repeated in the myth associated with the origin of the word lycanthrope, which has become synonymous for werewolves, and is from the Greek myth concerning King Lycaon, who attempted to serve Zeus the entrails of his son. Outraged at this Zeus turned Lycaon and his children into wolves. In Hendriks Goltzius’s illustration in 1589 Lycaon is portrayed using the symbolism of a man with a wolfs head, to visual imply the duality of the nature and the change occurring

Fig5, 6

This symbolism is repeated in the myth of the Cynocephali, a singular island   community ,depicted in this painting showing the journey of Marco Polo from the 13th century France and in this Icon from a 5th century Orthodox churches. Scholars have speculated that this portrayal may be due to a misunderstanding in the translation of Cainite to dog like. This style of visual representation ended due to the Great schism of 1054 and the subsequent changes in doctrine, implemented by Pope Leo IX.

Fig 7, Fig 8.Fig

In isolated cultures such as Britain, source of comparison or inspiration were the church icons or heraldic symbols. Which as you can see created a distinctly different portrayal syntagmatic of earlier Celtic iconography and interpretation

Fig 9, 10, 11

Fig 12,

The Nordic nations show equally singular images based on oral tradition of recounting mythology. Which depict of Fenrir as an enlarged wolf. This characterisation has often been utilised by modern artist and later in theatre and film in their interpretations of werewolves.

As printing techniques and education improved in central Europe, depictions of werewolves divided into two categories.


Fig 13, 14


Such as in Eschenbach in 1685 in a case of fratricide.  Which contrast with Lucas Cranach the Elder, who selected the use of indexical signs rather than feral and lupine attributes. The word Lupine itself a derivative of the Latin for moon (Fig 14) which become a metonymy with the word lunatic. Which was first printed in the King James Bible in 1611 and may account for the change.

Fig 15

The predominant factor in the central European cases is brutality and cannibalism which may through fear and association to the mythology have led to each case being referred to as a werewolf attack. Disassociating the crimes from human perpetrator and so vilifying the wolf.

Rollo May is stated in his book Existential psychology as saying “A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence. “(May, 1969)

Fig 16

As cultures has developed, society has restructured both its religious and social definitions, we have simplified and rationalised myths to re-appropriate them. Making both the visual and written more palatable, as in the case of little red riding hood which originally contained cannibalism and death with no hero.

Through colonisation and the sharing of ideology, education and reforms many earlier cultural referencing to the wolf and werewolves were suppressed or adapted.


While Photography and medical studies allowed the reclassification of hypertrichosis prevented the persecution of individuals as werewolves.  Growing technological and social expansion saw the

Fig 18, 19

The Reich appropriated the mythology. Using it to instil primal fear of isolation and prey.  From 1941 to 1945 Hollywood released four wolf man films. David J Skal has speculated that the visual representation and narrative of the film were created as counter propaganda to this primal fear of the wolf which symbolises war and German itself stating that “it is the beast that must be defeated”.

Fig 20

As film, television and the internet have reinvented the myth has evolved again now being visual represented as anti-hero, victim, lover. Each portrayal has shown the human fear of our own duality and what we are capable of. Contemporary digital arts such as Slawomir Maniak still portray the beast, the lunatic the werewolf the man the myth.

Fig 21

Thank you any questions

Fig 22








Hardy, C. and Frith, F. (2001). Francis Frith’s Rhys, J. (2004).

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx. 1st ed. Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific. Isle of Man. 1st ed. Salisbury, Wiltshire: Frith Book Co.

Crellin, A. and Miller, S. (1994). Manx folklore. 1st ed. Onchan, Isle of Mann: Chiollagh.

Broome, D. (1963). Fairy tales from the Isle of Man. 1st ed. Norris Modern Press.

Callow, E., Skowerski, M. and Karkut, D. (2009). Phynodderre. 1st ed. Sandomierz: Wydawnictwo Armoryka.

Wilson, P. (2001). Traditional tales of long, long ago. 1st ed. Bath, Eng.: Paragon Publishing.




Erasmus, D. (2013). Eloge de la folie. 1st ed. Paris: D. de Selliers.

GOOGLE BOOKS. (2017). 8. [online] Available at: http://SUBVERSIVE HORROR CINEMA [Accessed 7 Apr. 2017].

May, R. (1969). Existential psychology (1st ed.). New York: Random House.


Illustration list

Fig 1 & 2

Fig 3 Asena pinterest source unknown

Fig 4 King Lycaon, on an engraving from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book I, made by Hendrik Goltzius, 1589

Fig5 Dog-headed men from Livre des merveilles du monde, a 13th-century travelogue with stories told by Marco Polo

Fig 6 Kermira, Cappadocia St Christopher depicted with the head of a dog. From the 5th century

Fig7 Buxheim St Christopher 1423 woodblock print – College of the Holy Cross

Fig 8 Giraldus Cambrensis 1123 AD illuminated manuscript -Topographia Hibernica

Fig 9 Lindesfarne illuminated Manuscript, the British Library

Fig 10 Ardross Wolf, Highland museum 5thc

Fig 11 wolf heraldry, British Library

Fig 12 “The Binding of Fernier” (1908) by George Wright

Fig 13 the werewolf of Eschenbach, Germany, trapped in a well, 1685

Fig 14 Werewolf, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1512-

Fig 15 the Beast of Gévaudan, “a calf-sized men-eating wolf” that attacked about 210 people, resulting in 113 deaths (98 of them were partly eaten), between 1764 and 1767

Fig 16 Little Red Riding HOOD 1881 Karl Larsson

Fig 17 Jo Jo the dog faced boy

Fig 18…/the-wolf-pack-attacks-the-battle-for-one-world-war-tw

Fig 19

Fig 20 top 150 films

Fig 21 Slawomir Maniak, digital illustrator Poland 2010

Fig 22 readers digest amazing stories unknown artist 1978






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