|Angel in European Art|
Painters have always loved painting angels. Thanks to their little wings, they can be placed anywhere in the picture, and can be as many as the the narrated event needs. They can carry hidden symbolic message and because of it they can bring more information about sitters or about the depicted event.
In heaven they play a host of musical instruments, they sing, they dance, they recite, and they can be messengers sent by God to the man with good or sometimes bad news. They can be sent to inform Virgin Mary that she is expecting a child who shall be Christ, and to inform shepherds and Maggi when the birth is due. They can also be a warriors of the celestial armies sent by God to fight fallen angels, demons, and devils in heaven and on the earth as well.
For early Christian painters the problem finding a visual representation of such immaterial spirit as angel was solved by adapting the pagan winged figures of Victory and Nike although the most earliest Christian paintings or mosaics from second and third centuries shows them as wingless young men in white long robes. Many times happens that wingless angels were confusing with humans. By 350 AC winged figures of angels became common and universal by 600 AC. Around a century later the nimbus or aureole was added to better distinguish them from ordinary people. Because of their function to worship and sing glory of God they appear in the European paintings mostly as:
1. Love Triumphant
From the earliest times painters admired this little winged, always smiled, and chubby
aeronauts. They called them Cherub, Putto, Eros, Amor or Cupid, depends on the role
they played in the picture. In the most ancient cosmogonies, this little aeronaut was
considered to be the god of creation, born of primitive chaos and one of the primordial
elements of this world. The Greeks called him Eros - divinity of love and lust. Eros remained the god of love through the
centuries until our time.
From 6th century BC onwards he presided over marriages and victories, over love and lust,
and over jealousy and sin. In Hellenistic times artists and poets transformed
the dengerous god into an innocent looking, sweet, winged baby (Cupid) and
give him a bow and arrows, a toy looking but very dangerous wappon to play with.
2. Musicians of Soul
When the Christian era became in the middle of the IV century, the little winged
aeronauts, angels, were lavished with higher intelligence superior to the human soul
and the function they hold in the celestial court was also given to them.
(More about their function and symbolism: Angel as a Symbol in European Art).
The Church taught that angels were created by God before man to bliss and grace Him, to serve Him, to worship Him
and to sing His glory.
3. Divine Messengers
From the 4 th century, when the concept of angel was accepted by in the Church, some doctors of the Church and some pops were a little suspicious of angels, despite the fact that some of them were named in the Bible: Gabriel, Michael and Raphael on the side of God, and Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer and others on the side of evil. The suspicious of the Church revived again in the Renaissance time when the border between angels and winged figures of Classical Antiquity became more and more narrower. They did not want anybody to be confused by Cherubim and Seraphim with Amor, Cupid or Eros. In the Early Renaissance some directive were made where Church suggested that the messenger of the good news Gabriel should be depicted as an Angel with the soft girl's face dressed in the white, gold or red richly silver and gold ornamented robe with big white or light-blue wings, holding white lily flower or white rose in his hand. This not changed canon survived till our times.
4. Celestial Armies
It was Hebrews, who made a connection between the winged ancient statue and their own
angels descbed and named in Bible as
Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael or Satan, Beelzebub and Lucifer.
And it is also Bible,
where a battle between Michael and fallen angels is related in details. This biblical
subject played very important role in Europenan art and was very often undertaken by
painters in more than 2000 years history of European art. Of course,
a distinction between the good warrior
angel with the bad or fallen angel had to be created.
Church took care of it. Church representatives suggested to depict a good warrior
angel as a tall, good-looking young man in black, glistening armor riding on white horse,
keeping a spear or a sword in his hand from the God side and
winged monster, dragon, serpent or demon from the evil side.
5. Guardian or accompanying angel
The concept of guardian or accompanying angel became very popular especially in 16th/17th centuries and was made an universal by Clement X in 1670. The suggested by the Church representation of the guardian/accompanying angel was similar to the one depicted by G. A. Guardi in the church dedicated to the Angelo Raffaele in Venice. Representation of the guardian or accompanying agnel as an angel carrying the human' soul (depicted as a human body) became stanandard and was adopted by Guercino (Fano, Sant'Agostino) and his followers from XVIII and XIX century. The noble naturalism of XIX century gave way to more regular and pagan style of angel's beauty. In angels throw off their wings and adsorbed more advisory and consultative role. In the modern art the resemblence of the angel and needed help person is so big that is imposible to distinguish, but this problem artists left to our imagination and understanding.
The beautiful winged individuals were the most favorite objects to the Renesaince painters. The picturesque and graceful winged angels flying around Madonna or mitological beauty, singing Cherubim, playing misical instruments Serapim, Eros with his dangerous arrows or filling awkward space putti made the picture vivid and desirable.
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