When you think of an angel what do you see? Great white wings, a chiselled male figure, a pudgy baby, or even something more androgynous. Why is the portrayal of angels such a mixed bag and why even after hundreds of years are they still so appealing? Is it comforting for us to think we have someone watching over us, that we have a beautiful ethereal being there to shield us from all the bad things in the world? Or perhaps its the appeal of grace and freedom that we associate with these majestic guardians and messengers.
Given that angels are canonically referred to as immaterial beings it serves that the most accessible form to give one would be human. However, over time there has been a distinctive shift in what form angels have been represented. Lladró’s collection of angels is wide and varied with so many interpretations of angelic forms, from the innocent cherub to the bold and powerful Protective Angel. They have always shifted between hyper-masculine representations of the ideal man to more soft androgynous forms and even all the way to children. This could be because children offer that ethereal beauty and connotations of childhood innocence instead of the sensuality and desire that tends to be attached to more hyper-masculine representations of angels. This is why angels often blur the lines between gender and that neutrality makes them more universally appealing and again helps to elevate them from humans.
My Loving Angel Sculpture (left) & Immaculate Virgin Sculpture (ltd edn) (right). Read more about the significance of cherubs in relation to Cupid here.
Of course what could be more iconic than the great majestic wings that have come to define and signify the angelic and the divine. Signifiers of their otherness, these wings literally and figuratively elevate these beings, filling the space between God and humanity. The wings of an angel simultaneously serve to symbolise these being’s heavenly status and their ties to earth as well, as all creatures with wings must eventually return to the ground. The expertly crafted wings of Lladró’s Protective Angel are a perfect example of that balance between divinity and humanity, with the wings differentiating the figure from a regular human and yet the same human form grounds him and makes him tangible.
To many, angels represent perfection, divinity and the aspiration soar and achieve great things. This perhaps stems from the guardian angel idea their role in mythology and religion as messengers, portents of a momentous occasion or even all the way back to Ancient Greece and the personification of victory in the goddess Nike. A lot of Western history has venerated angels and held them as an ideal human and yet inhuman form. In today’s modern era they have become a more secular symbol, speaking to our desires for freedom and aspirations for perfection, virtue and success.
If you enjoyed this article, follow the links to other great write-ups of Greek mythology:
- Exposing The Idealism of Classical Greek Sculpture