Angels in Art

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The Angels have always been fruitful sources of inspiration for artists and painters.  Early works emerged as creative correspondence between the artist’s interpretation and from scripture.  Besides Christianity and Judaism, angels exist in classical mythology, shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam.

Depiction of Angels in Islamic Art

In Islam, angels are viewed as inhabitants of an intermediate world. According to Muhammad, angels sent by God to earth to search out those places where individuals or groups are engaged in remembering or invoking the Deity.  In a painting from a sixteenth century manuscript Paradise of Allah, Muhammad is accompanied by angels on a journey to heaven, hell, and Jerusalem.

Depiction of Angels in Christian Art

In Christian angel art, the aureole or nimbus is never omitted from the head of an angel.  It is always, wherever used, the symbol of sanctity.  The Glory of Angels is a representation of a great number of angels surrounding the Deity, or the glorified Virgin.  It is generally composed of the hierarchies of angels in circles, each hierarchy in its proper order.  Most artists contented themselves with two or three or merely a single circle.  The nine circles of angels are represented in various ways and are frequently seen in ancient frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures.  The princedom and power orders are represented by rows and groups of angels.  They are depicted as all wearing the same dress and tiara. 

Color in Angel Art

Color was of primary importance in the depiction of seraphs and cherubs.  Greater freedom was permitted in the portrayal of other Angelic orders.  For example, the inner circle in a Glory should be glowing red to represent love.  The second should be blue, to represent knowledge.  Some of the earliest pictures of angels were usually white.  Although, light shades of blue, red, and green were frequently used.  The Venetians used a pale salmon color in the drapery of their angels, while the early German painters employed weighty coloring, embroidery, and jewels. 

Gender in Angel Art

All angels depicted in art were supposedly masculine, represented as having young and beautiful human forms and faces.  They are never old.  Infant angels symbolize the souls of regenerated men, or the spirits of those who die in infancy. 

Wings in Angel Art

Wings have long been a distinctive Angelic symbol.  They represent spirit, power, and swiftness.  This theme is very common throughout the entire Middle Ages and constitutes the first portrayal of the accepted Christian idea of angels as winged beings.  The winged angel evolved during the fourth century, remaining common until the sixth century.  After this it came into its own again in Carolingian art and the Romanesque art of Italy and Southern France.  It became common again in Italy during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. 

Depiction of Angels in Contemporary Art

There are significant representations of angels by contemporary artists such as Auguste Rodin, Max Ernst, and Paul Klee.  A Russian painter, Marc Chagall, created the work, The Fall of the Angel, which is characterized by a violent red color in which the angel burns while falling.

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