Explore the Fantastic History of Angels in Art

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From the earliest cave paintings to the most modern digital creations, humans have always been inspired by the idea of angels and their heavenly realm. As a result, Angel art has an impressive history, from its roots in ancient Rome to its more recent appearances in medieval Europe.

But where do these heavenly creatures come from? How did they become such an important part of our visual history? Read on as we explore these questions by looking at some of history’s most beautiful examples of angel paintings.

Angels in Art

The Angel Standing In the Sun by William Turner

The Angel Standing In the Sun

by William Turner

Turner painted The Angel Standing in the Sun late in 1846 and displayed a scene from the Old Testament’s first section. In the center, the archangel Michael stands with his flaming sword, and the foreground reveals betrayal and killing. Adam and Ever are grieving their son, Abel, on the left, murdered by his brother.

He used the painting to demonstrate his belief that divine intervention would soon destroy the world. It was a response to his day’s political and religious upheavals.

A Soul Brought to Heaven by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

A Soul Brought to Heaven

by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The painting from 1878 sits in France’s Perigord Museum of Art and Archaeology. This famous biblical painting portrays two angels escorting a young girl through filmy clouds and going towards a destination up in the sky. You can see a silhouette in the background that symbolizes another angel waiting in heaven for her arrival.

history of angels in art Songs of the Angel by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Songs of the Angel

by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Bouguereau was the master of marvelous Christian paintings in the 1800s. His work “Songs of the Angel” from 1881 was painted during the neoclassical period. Taking inspiration from the realism of the Renaissance period, artists painted life-like pieces of Biblical depictions. This painting depicts three angels playing the violin and a lute as baby Christ rests in Holy Mary’s lap.

history of angels in art The Sistine Madonna by Raphael

The Sistine Madonna

by Raphael

Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” was his final painting, commissioned by Pope Julius II. It is among his most well-known works and comes from the San Sisto church in Piacenza. It was painted as an altarpiece in 1513-1514. 

The painting depicts Madonna holding her child and floating on the carpet, a recurring image in many famous religious paintings. Two baby angels are resting on their elbows, glancing at Mother Mary from beneath her while Saint Sixtus and Barbara surround her.

The Annunciation

by Sandro Botticelli

Sanda Botticelli’s awareness of architectural design and anatomy was comprehensive. The painting was displayed at a hospital for plague affectees during the fifteenth century. It portrays the moment when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be pregnant with Jesus.

The painting shows the archangel Gabriel with his clothes billowing on the left and Virgin Mary kneeling in the air on the right to pray. It currently sits in the Israel Museum, among other paintings of angels.

History of Angels in Art

The present-day belief of what angels look like undoubtedly came from historical art. Angels and other mythical creations have graced several artworks and murals over multiple mediums. The earliest angel artwork dates back to the 4th century, but their existence in various civilizations traces back to the 10th Century BCE in other forms. Angels have appeared in art as mosaics, sculptures, Catholic icons, and paintings.

Angelic Precursors

Ancient Greece culture played a huge role in the history of angels. The most famous angel sculpture, “Lamassu”, was placed on palace entrances as they had a role of a protector. On the other hand, Greece has two angels portrayed in their art – Eros, known as Cupid in Roman mythology, and Nike.

The Catacombs of Priscilla 

The Catacomb of Priscilla, located in Rome, is an ancient burial place for Christians. It contains several stunning frescos that have survived to the present day. The frescoes show scenes from the Old Testament and New Testament. In addition, they include biblical occasions like the Binding of Isaac, the Annunciation, and Madonna and Child.

The Annunciation is one of the most famous murals in this catacomb. The scene depicts Gabriel delivering God’s message to Mary, informing her that she will give birth to Jesus Christ and become his mother.

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Byzantine and Medieval Art

The earliest works depicting angels with wings date back to the Byzantine era. For example, The Prince’s Sarcophagus in Turkey. This early piece of art popularized the idea of angels with wings, but it is also found in other forms throughout history.

In medieval Europe, angels were often portrayed as female figures wearing flowing robes with golden wings and carrying religious symbols like swords or scrolls. These Christian paintings were often done on wood panels or ivory carvings.

Wrapping Up

Angels are a visual representation of the divine, and their history in art is as complex as their nature. From catacombs to frescos, angels have been depicted throughout history as protectors and messengers from God, using their supernatural powers to help guide humanity toward salvation.

Feature Image: Palais Garnier, Paris (Photo by Laila Gebhard Unsplash)

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