As we near the celebration of this most Christian holiday, Christmas, I thought we could look at a few beautiful paintings of angels. The word “angel” comes from the Latin “angelus”, meaning messenger.
We are all familiar with the words of the angel who appeared before the shepherds in the field with their flock:
And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people, for there is born to you…
But angels also appear in the writings of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, in Judaism, in Islam, in the Baháí and Sikh faiths – always spiritual beings intermediate between God and humans.
I have always loved this verse from Hebrews, learned as a child:
Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. —Hebrews 13:2
The lovely painting above, by Abbott Handerson Thayer (American, 1849 – 1921), is A Winged Figure, from The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art.
Thayer spent years of his childhood and most of his later life in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. And beyond his many landscape paintings of his beloved Mount Monadnock, he did many paintings of angels. Here is his 1887 work, Angel, now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum:
And of Thayer’s many paintings of angels, here is my all-time favorite, painted in 1920-21, and now in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass. It is titled Monadnock Angel, and she spreads her hands as if blessing the lovely New Hampshire winter landscape, and Mount Monadnock itself:
When looking online at the beautiful Christmas hooked rugs to be seen – designs of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, decorated trees, shining stars and snowflakes, woodland animals – there are surprisingly few of angels. Maybe I have just missed them.
Angels have been, in art and sculpture, most often depicted as male humans. The Thayer angels are young women, and are so straightforward, with a direct, kindly gaze. All of Thayer’s angels communicate a sense of deep security and peace.
And as we approach another Christmas, security and peace, in your life and creative work, is my Christmas wish for you.