Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Archangels in the National Gallery

Yesterday I went on a research trip to the British Museum to see if I could get some inspiration for the treatment I am writing about angels however I discovered out of everything they have (and they have a lot of weird and exciting stuff) they only had two pieces (one the size of a penny) featuring named archangels. So I trudged across London and tried my luck at the National Gallery (in particular the Sainsbury Wing)! I know the Sainsbury Wing is not everybody's cup of tea, being a gallery of Christian iconography (I watched a few people realise where they were and turn around) however if you go with an open-mind, I promise you will find something you will enjoy for its artistic value, just as much as you would in the rest of the gallery. Of course if you can't possibly bear the idea of looking at religious art the main gallery has many depictions of un-named angels and cute little baby cherubs (which though probably very adorable are nothing like how cherubs are supposed to look).

So here are my favourite images of Archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael from London's National Gallery (NB, these are my favourites from the gallery but not necessarily my all time favourites):

Archangel Gabriel

The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi

What I like most about this painting is the way the poses, though different, mirror each other giving a sense balance and serenity. The mirroring of the bowed heads also suggests that both Gabriel and Mary have respect for each other and are of equal importance and status. Finally I like the depiction of Gabriel. He is not some cute, defenceless child, he is a handsome, strapping young man. With his peacock feather wings and embellished clothing he could be proud however he is humble and earnest to those who show respect to him - who could ask for more from possibly the most famous of Archangels?

Archangel Raphael

Tobias and the Angel by Andrea del Verrocchio

Though Tobias is really only in the painting so that we know this is Raphael rather than any everyday angel he adds so much to the pose. The pair stride merrily down the path and are deep in conversation - Raphael is a good travelling partner. As with Gabriel Raphael's clothing is anything but plain suggesting that he is not only someone special but a creature of beauty. His wings are those of a swallow's, a bird representing safe journeys and victories, highlighting Raphael's victories over the two demons who wish to waylay Tobias' journey whilst with him.

Archangel Michael

It was images of Michael depicted in the following manner (rather than in a white dress) that made me want to write my own series about angels - there is so much more to angels than placid messengers.

Saint Michael Triumphant over the Devil by Bartoleme Bermejo

Introducing Michael the warrior angel! Could he look any more ready for action with his arm raised, about to slay the devil and his cape billowing behind him? With such detailed creases I feel like I can actually hear his cape ruffling in the wind. And could he look any more regal with his embellished red cape and golden armour? Michael is not just any old angel - he is power, he is might...he battled an enormous army and saved the whole of Heaven and Earth.

Archangel Michael by Carlo Crivelli

Once again Michael looks resplendent in his embellished armour and devil slaying pose. What I particularly like about this version is his expression. Unlike Bermejo's serene depiction this Michael means business which is emphasised by the humans looking up for mercy from his scales and the lions on his leg armour. This angel is no simple messenger or choir boy - he is above all things a warrior.

If you are interested in the other images of angels at the National Gallery you can buy a book called 'A Closer Look: Angels' by Erika Langmuir.

If you are interested in depictions of angels in roles other than messengers (and can't wait for my version) then I recommend the film Dogma and the short story Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman (later adapted into a radio play and graphic novel).

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