Automata were... theologically and culturally familiar, things with which one could be on easy terms.
They were funny, sometimes bawdy, and they were everywhere... Mechanical devils were...rife. Poised in sacristies, they made horrible faces, howled and stuck out their tongues to instill fear in the hearts of sinners. The Satan-machines rolled their eyes and flailed their arms and wings; some even had moveable horns and crowns. A muscular, crank-operated devil with sharply pointed ears and wild eyes remains in residence at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
—Jessica Riskin, "Machines in the Garden." Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 1, no. 2 (April 3, 2010)
In her article "Machines in the Garden," Jessica Riskin discusses the use of automatons for religious purposes. Some of my favorite examples include mechanical devils intended to frighten church visitors into obedience (as shown and quoted above); mechanical passion plays; and a mechanical Christ on the crucifix popular in the 15th Century, which was able
to bow down and lifte up it selfe, to shake and stirre the handes and feete, to nod the head, to rolle the eies, to wag the chaps, to bende the browes, ... and gathering a frowning, forward, and disdainful face, when it would pretend offence: and shewing a most milde, amiable, and smyling cheere and countenaunce, when it woulde seeme to be well pleased. —William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent: Conteining the Description, Hystorie, and Customes of that Shire. Written in the Yeere 1570. by William Lambarde of Lincolns Inne Gent
I highly encourage you to read this fascinating article in its entirety; you can do so by clicking here.
Images: Italian Automaton (The Devil), carved in wood, 15th and 16th centuries, from the Wunderkammer owned by Ludovico Settala. It could, in the words of the Cosmodromium Blog, "roll its eyes and move its tongue, emit a noise and spit smoke from the mouth." Images sourced here. All images and ideas sourced from the Cosmodromium Blog; read whole post—and see additional images—by clicking here.
This post originally appeared on Morbid Anatomy.