For this year’s holiday season, ten 15th C paintings in London’s National Gallery are selected to form the “Angel Trail”, a free self-guided tour to discover more about these hard-working heavenly creatures.
Angels are not just for the holidays
Multi-religious and politically-diplomatic, angels are relegated a multitude of roles, often double-jobbing as cosmic messengers, guardians of faith, or sublime musicians. And more often than not, they are found hanging out in the slim realm between Heaven and Earth, permanently on stand-by, as my mother would say, “looking out for idiots, drunks and little children”.
But how do we know they’re angels and not just stunningly handsome youths with good intentions? By their wings, of course, or their singing, and you can often tell an angel by the outfit: pristine white robes or in St Michael’s case, this General of the Holy Infantry wears a suit of armour (with built-in wing-holes to release his ethereal flappers).
Captivating figures that appear frequently in the globe’s cultural myths, immortalised in religious paintings and parables, angels really come to life in the imagination of late Medieval and Renaissance artists. Take Fra Filippo Lippi’s Gabriel, who wore a dashing pair of peacock wings and feathery golden epaulets to deliver the Big News to Mary (Surprise! You’re knocked up! It’s not Joseph’s! But don’t worry; it was the Holy Spirit that snuck into your belly button last night). Perhaps if Gabriel had been wearing ordinary white wings of the low-tier angels, he’d have been mistaken for carol singers, given a fiver, and sent on his way.
The world’s ornithology certainly seems to have inspired these angelic fliers, who sport a bright array of feathery concoctions, each more astonishingly colourful than the last. Giovanni’s Virgin is flanked by choirs of glowing beings borne by stripey rainbow wings, accompanied by an orchestra of all manner of floating cherubs merrily plucking lutes and blowing trumpets. There is even a baby Blue Man Group, feathers the same turquoise as their skin, peeking out from behind the Virgin’s shoulders, as usual, uttering not a sound and letting their facial expressions say it all.
Walt Disney even seems to have gathered heavenly inspiration for his animated stories; in Simon Marmion’s “Choir of Angels” 15th century alter-piece, perched mid-air and wielding magic flutes, we find pink Flora, green Fauna, and blue-winged Merryweather, the three good fairies that helped Cinderella make a bid for Prince Charming.
These and a heap of other holy bards, guards, and melody-makers are flitting about the National Gallery, waiting to be discovered in your next visit. What angels will you find?
Read more about the “Angel Trail”
- Visit the National Gallery website to read more about the 10 angels selected for this year’s Angel Trail at National Gallery, London – mostly from 15th c. collection of paintings by “Old Masters”
- Watch National Gallery’s four-part series on angels in their collection – published 2015, YouTube, approximately 3 minutes each; viewers can learn “What are Angels?”, hear from “Messenger Angels”, bask in “Heavenly Choirs”, and discover “Hidden Angels” in many of the pictures around the Gallery
- Follow National Gallery’s “Nativity Trail” – 25 December 2013 on Kelise72.com
Exhibition details: The “Angel Trail” is on at National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London during regular opening hours. Step-free access, free admission (a donation of £5 for your visit is welcomed).