A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
In September 1940 Walter Benjamin committed suicide during an attempt to flee the Nazi regime. After World War II Walter Benjamin’s lifelong friend, Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), the distinguished scholar of Jewish mysticism, inherited the drawing. According to Scholem, Benjamin felt a mystical identification with the Angelus Novus and incorporated it in his theory of the “angel of history,” a melancholy view of historical process as an unceasing cycle of despair.
In 2015, in conjunction with her solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, American artist R. H. Quaytman discovered that the monoprint had been adhered to an 1838 copper-plate engraving by Friedrich Muller after a Lucas Cranach portrait of Martin Luther.
- Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History", Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1969: 249.
- Werkmeister, Icons of the Left: Benjamin and Einstein, Picasso and Kafka After the Fall. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997: 9.
- "Last Angel of History". 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
- "zing6 - reviews - angelus nova". Zing Magazine. 1997. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Seventh Munchener Biennale". 4–19 May 2000. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Angelus Novus at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
- Bourneuf, Annie "The Margins of the Angelus Novus", Chapter 29: Haqaq, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2015