Angel Art: Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Angel Art

Angel Art - 1

Triumph of the Innocents by Holman Hunt

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] In this front rank of great religious artists we must also place Mr. Holman Hunt, whose work has appealed so strongly to the popular mind, without any deliberate attempt on his part, however, to make it do so. His great picture, “The Triumph of the Innocents,” demands mention here for the beauty of the angelic children who, seen alone by the infant Christ, are accompanying the Holy Family to Egypt. The picture was at the Guildhall Exhibition a year or two ago, and is now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Elijah in the Wilderness by Lord Frederick Leighton

The religious works of the late Lord Leighton are few, and the “Elijah,” reproduced on page 771, is probably the best. The angel is a striking figure, enriched as it is by the beauty of eternal youth; but it will he noticed that the artist’s love for carefully arranged draperies is exemplified even here. This picture is also at Liverpool. It is not generally known that Lord Leighton many years ago was engaged with other great artists living in “the ‘Sixties” in the illustration of an edition of the Bible. No book has suffered more through its illustrations than the “Book of books,” and this effort to do it justice is worthy of note here. Many of the drawings executed are to be seen in South Kensington Museum.

Angel Art - 3

Elijah Is Nourished by an Angel by Gustave Dore

It is doubtful if any illustrated Bible exceeded the popularity attained by the one illustrated throughout by Gustave Dore. This talented Frenchman had a versatility of genius truly remarkable, and during his comparatively short life accomplished more work than any artist of any time. With an imagination which could grasp any incident pictorially, he was equally happy in illustrating the Bible, Milton’s or Dante’s works, “Don Quixote” or “Aesop’s Fables.” His angels, while being conventional and in full accord with popular ideas, were 
spiritual and ethereal, as the example given on page 774 is sufficient to show. 
He was peculiarly happy in delineating the heavenly hosts, and seemed to revel 
in illustrating such a passage from 
Dante as the following:—

“In fashion, as a snow white rose, lay then
Before my view the saintly multitude.
Which in His own blood Christ espoused. Meanwhile
That other host, that soar aloft to gaze
And elaborate His glory, whom they love,
Hovered around: and like a troop of bees,
Amid the vernal sweets alighting now,
Now clustering where their fragrant labour glows,
Flew downward to the mighty flower, or rose
From the redundant petals, streaming back
Unto the steadfast dwelling of their joy.
Faces had they of flame, and wings of gold;
The rest was whiter than the driven snow;
And, as they flitted down the flower,
From range to range, fanning their plumy loins,
Whispered the peace and ardour, which they won
From that soft winnowing.”
“Paradise,” Canto xxxi

In Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” too, Dore found delight in depicting the scenes in heaven as described by the inspired poet. The following passage afforded him one of his finest opportunities:—

“Then crowned again, their golden harps they took.
Harps ever tuned, that glittering by their side
Like quivers hung, and with preamble sweet
Of charming symphony they introduce
Their sacred song, and waken raptures high:
No voice exempt, no voice but well could join
Melodious part, such concord is in heaven.”

Angel Art - 4

Angels Adoring the Infant Christ by Marianne Stokes

The illustration on p. 775 is from a picture by one of our most eminent lady artists, Mrs. Adrian Stokes. She has painted several religious pictures, each alike endowed with beauty and the true spirit of simplicity and reverence. In the picture before us she has departed from the conventional idea of the angel quite as much as Rossetti or Sir Edward Burne-Jones has done; but in another work I remember of hers—“Angels Adoring the Infant Christ”—she has given us delightful transcripts from the early Italian masters in the figures of the angels.

Angel Art - 5Angel Clipart

The pictorial representations of angels reproduced in this paper are given as types of the various creations of painters. Each succeeding exhibition of works of art contains some fresh attempt to portray the angelic beings; but it will be found that each one is based upon one or other of the ideas represented in these articles. The artist may, of course, have his own method of painting and infuse individuality into his work, but the characteristic features of the angel remain. Compare these illustrations of modern work with those given or mentioned in the opening paper on the subject, and it will be found that the most unconventional of them has its counterpart in, or a least points of resemblance to, the creations of the early artists.  We come back, then, to the point raised in that article, that we are indebted entirely to the early artists of Italy for the idea of the angelic form.  I pointed out that in the Bible no description is afforded us of angels, and the fact has to be recognised that the popularly accepted form of the heavenly messenger is entirely a creation of the mediaeval artistic mind. Successive generations of painters have handed on the traditions of these early workers, and in this respect, at any rate, have acquired popularity in proportion to their fidelity to these original ideals.

Angel of the Resurrection by F. J. Williamson

In Memoriam by F. J. Williamson

A word or two remains to he said concerning sculptured angels, of which four examples are illustrated. The sculptor is, of course, more heavily handicapped by his material than his painter-brother. It is impossible to suggest spirituality of being in marble or bronze. All that can be done is to bestow as much grace and beauty on the figure as is possible. That Mr. F. J. Williamson, the genial sculptor to the Queen, has done this in the examples given of his work on pages 772 and 777 need hardly to be pointed out. So far as success can be achieved in this direction it is his.

Angels from Viscount Melbourne’s Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral by Baron Marochetti

The examples of sculptured angels on page 773 are from the well-known monument to Viscount Melbourne, the Queen’s first Prime Minister, in the north aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral. On either side of the great black marble gates stands the figure of a sleeping angel, one with a sword and the other with a trumpet. The monument was the work of Baron Marochetti, and while it forms an imposing feature of the great cathedral, it must be confessed that it is grandiose rather than dignified.

Though it cannot properly be included in this paper dealing with the work of modern artists, I cannot refrain from mentioning, in connection with sculptured angels, the curious representation of Jacob’s ladder to be seen on the front of the Abbey Church at Bath. On either side of the main doorway the ladder stretches up the noble front of the building, the angels ascending on one side and descending on the other, and although many of the figures are broken or worn away by the action of the weather, the whole forms an interesting example of the work under notice.

That these two articles do not pretend to deal with the subject exhaustively is obvious—space would not allow more than a mere outline but sufficient has been said to show its possibilities and the fascinating interest of its study.

Source: Fish, Arthur. “Picturing the Angels.” The Quiver. London: Cassell & Company, Ltd., 1897.

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