Angels in art
Angels have appeared in works of art for millennia. Angel-shaped beings appear in ancient Mesopotamian and Greek art and were probably the inspiration for the popular Christian image of angels, a popular subject for Byzantine and European paintings and sculpture.
The earliest known Christian image of an angel, in the Cubicolo dell'Annunziazione in the Catacomb of Priscilla, which is dated to the middle of the third century, is without wings. Representations of angels on sarcophagi and on objects such as lamps and reliquaries of that period also show them without wings, as for example the angel in the Sacrifice of Isaac scene in the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.
The earliest known representation of angels with wings is on what is called the Prince's Sarcophagus, discovered at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, in the 1930s, and attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379-395). Flying winged angels, very often in pairs flanking a central figure or subject, are derivations in visual terms from pairs of winged Victories in classical art.
In this same period, Saint John Chrysostom explained the significance of angels' wings: "They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."
From then on Christian art generally represented angels with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (432-440). Multi-winged angels, often with only their face and wings showing, drawn from the higher grades of angels, especially cherubim and seraphim, are derived from Persian art, and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth. They often appear in the pendentives of domes or semi-domes of churches.
Angels, especially the archangel Michael, who were depicted as military-style agents of God, came to be shown wearing Late Antique military uniform. This could be either the normal military dress, with a tunic to about the knees, armour breastplate and pteruges, but also often the specific dress of the bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor, with a long tunic and the loros, a long gold and jewelled pallium restricted to the Imperial family and their closest guards. The basic military dress it is still worn in pictures into the Baroque period and beyond in the West (see Reni picture above), and up to the present day in Eastern Orthodox icons. Other angels came to be conventionally depicted in long robes, and in the later Middle Ages they often wear the vestments of a deacon, a cope over a dalmatic, especially Gabriel in Annunciation scenes - for example The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck.
In Christian theology early mentions say that there were male ones who found the females on earth fair and did breed; some art depicts cherubs with genitals of either gender; but for the most part, angels do not breed, have no sexual organs or gender, and all are beautiful. Many angels in art may appear to the modern eye to be gendered by their dress or actions, but until the 19th centuries, even the most female looking will normally lack breasts, and the figures should normally be considered as genderless. In 19th-century art, especially funerary art, this traditional convention is sometimes abandoned.
The classical putto re-appeared in art during the Italian Renaissance in both religious and mythological art, and is often known in English as a cherub, the singular of cherubim, actually one of the higher ranks in the Christian angelic hierarchy.
Angels in Islamic art mainly appear in narrative scenes in miniature painting, in the Persian Mughal and Ottoman traditions. They are especially common in illustrations of the Prophet's Mi'raj, one of the occasions where their presence is mentioned in the Qu'ran. Their appearance generally draws more from the iconography of pre-Islamic Persia, and Buddhist art, than from angels in Christian art. Some of the earliest Ilkhanid examples are exceptions to this. They have wings, often multi-coloured, and very often floating scarves drawing from Chinese Buddhist art. They are not very common however; many appear in illustrations to biographical accounts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, which are themselves rare. There are a few studies of angels by themselves, especially from Safavid Persia.
- Archangel Michael in Christian art
- St. Michael the Archangel
- St. Gabriel the Archangel
- Angels in Islam
- Fleur de lys
- List of names referring to El
- Angel of the Lord
- Hierarchy of angels
- Christian angelic hierarchy
Galleries of Angels
Master of the St Lucy Legend, Mary, Queen of Heaven, c 1480-1510, accompanied by angels, some making music and others investments
Jacob wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Doré
St Michaels Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein
Lamentation by Giotto di Bondone
The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1472–75
by Jan Matejko
Church of Saint Demetrius Patron Saint of Thessaloniki
- Proverbio, Cecilia (2007). La figura dell'angelo nella civiltà paleocristiana. Assisi, Italy: Editrice Tau. ISBN 88-87472-69-6.
- The Nine Choirs of Angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Archangels, Principalities, Angels - from Catholic Online
- Black and White Angel Photography
- Angels today - collection of angels pictures, information about archangels
- Donald Pass - contemporary art on angels
- Angel Art Gallery - Free Large Slideshow
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