Art meets angels (1)

© Marlen Wagner

Only the context in which they stand identifies them as angels: The first trench angels are men without wings, so human that they are indistinguishable from mortals. Dressed in a tunic with an upper garment, their feet laced in sandals, they are reminiscent of depictions of the Greeks in antiquity. Finally winged, they appear with exclusively male features, often dressed in priestly robes on their rigid bodies, only until the 13th century.

After that, things start to move. More feminine features, even girlish daintiness, characterise the angelic figures from the beginning of the Quattrocento. With the early Renaissance, the sheaths of heavy fabric are removed and sleeveless togas take their place, revealing a lot of bare skin. And it becomes colourful: in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, painters give their angels coloured wings. Jan van Eyck, for example, shows only thumb-sized angels in the left and right corners of his painting “Madonna at the Fountain”, to whom the painter gives rainbow-coloured wings and a splendid red and gold robe and tames their long blond curls with a golden diadem each. Precious robes now adorn the angels, decorated with waving ribbons and flowers. They are more reminiscent of the figure of Chloris (Flora) than of angels.

Music-making angels are to be found. Child angels and winged angel heads broaden the spectrum of depictions of angels in the 12th century. Cherubs, a cross between child angels and winged angel heads, enter the stage of angels in the Italian early Renaissance and the German Baroque. The winged naked bairns have been known since antiquity as love gods, cupids, but appear in Christian representations only belatedly. They are playful, carefree, sometimes cocky or mischievous, of great lightness and heartbreaking emotion. Inconsolably, the putto on Ignaz Günther’s Pieta in the collegiate church of St. Peter and Paul in Weyarn sobs into the artistically pleated shroud of Jesus. Sitting at Mary’s feet, he directly shows the pain Mary must feel at the death of her son, symbolised by the long dagger in her breast. The winged children’s heads below the crossbeam of the cross look past the group of mourners strangely untouched by the scene.
Cherubs with their bacon roll chubby cheeks counter the severity and seriousness of many of the adult angels and defuse their implacability.

Lightness, grace, elegance, playfulness as well as sensuality, eroticism, lasciviousness even characterise the age of the Rococo. Johann Baptist Straub and, above all, his pupil Ignatz Günther give their angels wings around which they can see the wind blowing. These angels move with wings of their own kind, revealing much more of their bodies than is actually appropriate. Greek tunics reveal naked legs and arms, breastplates trivialised as corsets draw the eye to free upper bodies. The abundance of precious fabrics swells seductively around the male body of the guardian angel, whose facial features in Günther’s work always mingle those of a sensual youth with those of a slightly lascivious older man. Günther’s angels are of this world, also or precisely because their wings keep them suspended in gestures. The gestures of the arms, right down to their fingertips, quote the highest art form of the Rococo: the dance. The arm, which seems to be stretching upwards towards the sky, is in fact performing an arching gesture of the arm raised in the dance and now lowered again. The outstretched finger does not point upwards to God, but rather quotes the adorned posture of the fingers in the rococo dance: index finger and little finger slightly raised above middle and ring finger, all fingers lowered from the back of the hand. Günther himself draws attention to this by extremely lengthening the index fingers of his angels.

Marlen Wagner

Kunst trifft Engel (2)