Angels in Art

Angel:  Shadow of God – Messenger – Revealer of truth.
‘ angel’ from the Greek word ‘angelos’- which means messenger.

‘For beauty is only a seed of dread to be endured yet adored, since it disdains to destroy us.
An Angel , alone, is misted in dread.’(Rainer Maria Rilke).

painting, Endlessly by Peter WhitemanMy first real encounter with the power of an Angel was with that depicted in The Ecstasy of St.Teresa, or  St. Teresa in Ecstasy in the Baldachin of St. Peter’s in Rome. The entire setting is an installation by the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini in marble,stucco and paint – a sculptural masterpiece of the High Roman Baroque. The group is illuminated by natural light which filters through a hidden window in the dome of the surrounding aedicule, and underscored by gilded stucco rays.(Bernini was an architect, sculptor, painter, set designer and playwright).
The Angel  appears to be life size, despite it’s dimensions, which is why it is so powerful and relates directly to the viewer.

‘There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world, a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic. (Vladimir Nabukov).

The piece is sensual and erotic. The Angel is of the heavens, St. Teresa of the earth. A metaphor uniting a spiritual/ physical experience. I was fortunate to approach it without any real prior knowledge or research.

The Angel Gabriel was fairly familiar to me through numerous depictions of  The Annunciation.  Gabriel – ‘hero of God’ – in Hebrew.
The Annunciation is described in Christian art and the Qur’an. Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism bring out the important differences between good and evil spirits, between angels and demons.

It is difficult to depict Angels or Spirits. The English word spirit- from the Latin’spiritus’- has many differing meanings and connotations, most of them relating to non-corporeal substance. There are few Goyas,William Blakes or Henry Fuselis. There are countless depictions of demons in the media, much fewer of angels. Most are crude, naive or sentimental, with a few notable exceptions, such as in the films of Abel Ferrara, Luis Bunuel, William Friedkin, Mike Nichols, Rupert Wainwright and Luc Besson.

If you have difficulty expressing your emotions, then you will be less receptive to spirits or presences. Animals have less problem as they have retained their instincts and responses out of necessity.

‘I hear you are a practical man – what have you to lose?’  (The Godfarther).

‘If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.’ (Tennessee Williams).

The ultimate challenge for artists is ‘ the visualisation of pure bliss.’ (Simon Schama).
The Agony of St Theresa certainly achieves this.

Angels in Art, Peter Whiteman