Throughout the centuries of art, a number of themes have displayed a stubborn persistence. Perhaps numbrer one, arguably the most persistent, has been religion. And within that category, there are quite a number of persistent images. Discounting the ancient pagan images, the most common are Jesus himself, followed by Mary. Because these two are so central to religious art (Muslim art having no such images) there has not been much in terms of variation in the way they've been depicted that cannot be accounted for by the simple evolution of painting styles.
However the third most common subject matter in religious art seems to have offered artist down through the ages a great deal of latitude both visually and thematically. In terms of their sheer numbers in religious art, they are by far the most common figures depicted. And, while the popularity of religious art in general has waned somewhat during the last century or two, we find now that these images seem to be enjoying renewed interest among the general public, if not necessarily among artists. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm talking about the multitude of angels that have populated the panels, walls, and canvases of artist for over a thousand years.
|Archangels Michael and Gabriel,|
12th Century icons
|Lamentations of the Dead Christ, 1305,|
Today, we most commonly link the painting of angels with the work of Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo, and a host of other Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque masters. But lest you think the visual tradition kind of stagnated with Rubens, El Greco, and Grunewald, you might be surprised to find that Rembrandt painted angels, as did the Rococo artists, and also Goya, Blake, Rosetti, Gauguin, and Chagall, to name just a few, more recent, painters to employ such heavenly beings in their work.
|The Annunciation, 1438, Fra Angelico|