See also: Fairies, Fantasy, Paranormal, Spiritual
Angels have been portrayed by artists in cultures around the world since the earliest of times, pre-dating even Christianity as seen in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian works depicting winged figures as messengers of God, an idea later adopted by Christianity in the first century.
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Ancient Egyptian artists used winged figures to represent strength and divine beauty. In ancient Greece, the winged figure was a symbol for victory. These winged figures served as inspiration for later Christian artists.
In Christian art, the portrayal of angels or any incorporeal being was forbidden until the fourth century, however some representations have appeared in the form of wingless men.
It was John of Thessalonica who argued that "Although they are not composed like us of the four elements, it is, nevertheless, impossible to say that the angels, the demons, and souls are incorporeal; for they have appeared many times reclothed in their own bodies to those whose eyes it has pleased God to open."
Soon after, we begin to see the first winged angels appear in Christian art, the earliest being the mosaics of the Church of Santa Agata in Ravenna. In addition to mosaics, angels appeared in illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, sculpture, frescoes, and paintings. Still, they were not permitted to appear for the sake of beauty, but rather to illustrate the teachings of the Church.
Early angels were always depicted with a nimbus, a golden or other colored disk placed behind or above the head, symbolizing divine glory. They were always fully clothed and they were always male, even though scripture describes them as sexless.
Slowly the representation of angels evolved, by the early Renaissance angels began to take the shape of women and children. The wings became more stylized, the colors more vibrant, the nimbus became a "circle of glory," and the drapery flowed more freely or was even absent in some cases. These are the images we picture when we imagine angels today.
Browse the links below to view angels in online museum exhibitions and library collections.
Wings of Fantasy: Angels in American Art
A thematic slideshow from the Smithsonian American Art Museum that features 18 diverse selections of work ranging from traditional oil paintings to abstract collages and sculptures.
Online images from the religious collections.
The Fantastic in Art and Fiction
An online presentation of book illustrations featuring angels and demons.
View around 22 works in the Online Collections Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art including mostly paintings dating from approximately 1388 to 1740.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
View a collection of around 78 images in the museum's online collection, includes drawings, paintings, sculpture, and other objects.
Jewish Heritage Online Magazine
A collection of angels in Jewish heritage from the Judaica Gallery.
Painting in Italian Choir Books 1300-1500
Collection of choral manuscript illuminations including scenes of singing angels, heroic saints, Hebrew prophets, and Renaissance princes.
View a collection of around 473 images in the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.
View images of objects in the online collections of the Brooklyn Museum, also includes related collections.
View objects in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
A selection of images by artists such as George Hitchcock, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Bouguereau, and others. See also: Fallen Angels
This museum houses the famous Black Angel Collection donated by Oprah Winfrey.
References & Suggested Reading
Erskine Clement, Clara. Angels in Art. Boston: L. C. Page and Company, 1898.
Jameson, Anna. Sacred and Legendary Art, Volume 1. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1857.
Nixon-Roulet, Mary. Saint Anthony in Art: And Other Sketches. Boston: Marlier & Company, Limited, 1901.
Vinycomb, John. Fictitious & Symbolic Creatures in Art. London: Chapman and Hall, Limited, 1906.
Manual of Oriental Antiquities
The Archaeological Journal, Volume 43
A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, Volume 1
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 1
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