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The Southern Indian “Devil in Calicut” in Early Modern Northern Europe: Images, Texts and Objects in Motion

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

AbstractFor sixteenth-century Europeans, the so-called demon and idol known as the “devil in Calicut” vividly epitomized the town of Calicut on India’s Malabar coast. Ludovico di Varthema’s textual invention of the devil in 1510 was rapidly followed by a range of visual images that circulated in print. This article explores how and why the most persistent and vigorous images of this devil emerged from Reformation and Counter-Reformation northern Europe. It further proposes that aspects of the visual and material culture of southern India—and specifically metal sculptures and coins—should be mined in order to better understand the European creation of the “devil in Calicut” and its constant reinvention and circulation. The article argues that the devil maintained its polemical usefulness to a northern European world view in which the heresy of non-Europeans mattered a great deal, but so too did religious changes in Europe that were shaping views about idolatry, materiality, and the role of religious images.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Manchester


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