Art books captures angels captured by heavenly artists

November 18, 2009

Bobz Book Reviews

“The Glory of Angels,”
by Edward Lucie-Smith

Seraphim, cherubim, archangels and guardian angels.

That’s the sum total of my knowledge of angels before working my way through Edward Lucie-Smith’s huge, beautiful coffee table book.

Its pages are filled with so much about angels I never knew.

“The Glory of Angels” covers the waterfront about the heavenly host. Readers will find there is a hierarchy or “order” of angels — and archangel is only one category. Each level of angel supposedly has a job to do. This pecking order, if you will, appears in neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament, but only shows up in the 4th century, so take that as a word to the wise.

On the other hand, there are numerous references to angels in both the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, and this book reminds us of a number of them through use of well-placed and eye-catching quotations from the Psalms, Genesis, Revelation and St. Paul’s letters. There are pertinent quotes as well from artists, saints and historic figures.

But the written copy or text is really secondary in “The Glory of Angels.” The text simple is the skeleton for the real flesh of this book.

This is one marvelous gathering of stupendous art.

Works by the masters
Lucie-Smith may have captured on these pages a majority of the world’s great renderings of angels in art. Paintings, frescoes, tapestry, sculpture, bas relief, icons, stained glass, mosaics, even dishes and jewelry — they’re all here, and by scores of the most famous artists across the ages.

A Tiffany window, color-bursting modern works by Kandinsky, Kim, Gauguin, Dali and Chagall, pieces by masters such as Rubens, Giotto, Bernini, El Greco and Manet.

Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Titian all have their own version of God’s angel stopping Abraham as he’s about to sacrifice his son Isaac.)

One of my favorites is the beautifully framed Nativity done by Della Robbia in brilliant white marble on a stunning blue field. In it, God the Father and a host of angels want from above as the Virgin prays over the Christ Child in the manger.

Images both familiar and fresh
Readers with even a slight connection to religious literature will immediately recognize the sword-bearing angelic figure as the Archangel Michael. More than half-dozen images depict the warrior angel, the best being a two-page spread that carries the near-science fiction scene of “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” that Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted in the 16th century. The characterization of the bad angels turning into grotesque beasts rivals anything from the cantina scene in “Star Wars,” and a golden-clad Michael is prominent in the center of the action.

Gabriel appears in any number of renderings of the Annunciation. The angels often come in dreams — to Jacob and St. Joseph, for example –and they come from scores of countries, including China, Japan, Senegal, India and Ethiopia. Angels even illustrate pages of some copies of the Muslim Qu’ran.

Not a believer in angels?
The 192-page Collins/Design large hardcover offers a chapter titled “What Angels Do For Us” that invites readers to walk through works of art that show that, in the authors words, “we perceive things through our encounters with angels that might otherwise be hidden from us.” A handful of works bring guardian angels into the picture, saving mostly children from danger, but adults as well.

The coolest: “Cowboy Angel” complete with chaps, by Delmas Howe. The most different: Rom Mueck’s “Angel,” an elfish male sans clothing perched atop an old stool.

In a wonderfully designed and elegantly printed book, two elements stand out. The first is the interesting way the art is identified, with caption information about title, artist and era available on the page or nearby and clear via a numbering and icon system.

The second is a superb index — slugged “Picture Resource” — with thumbnail versions of each work, the page on which it appears, the title, artist, time frame, current location, medium and genre.

That alone turns a gorgeous coffee table book into an invaluable art resource. — bz
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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski