was of great importance for Christian art. Here, we identify the lesser known archangels and we uncover their
names and the symbols that define them. With each painting, we discover why these feathered figures occupy the highest parts of the altar in the former Church of Santa Clara.
Sealtiel (archangel) (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum
Archangel Selaphiel: The exercise of prayer
An archangel that mixes diverse apocryphal sources is Selaphiel. According to some rabbinical traditions, his main function is to instill order across the seven planets and heavens that make up the universe, as stated in the Hebrew doctrine.
For the Catholic apocryphal tradition, Selaphiel’s function is to carry the prayers of the believers. This is why he is normally shown praying or holding objects tied to the act of prayer. Here we see him holding a piece of paper inscribed with a plea.
The stillness of his figure is reinforced with his expressive eyes, looking up to the skies. This pictorial formula represents the moment of ecstasy where a person finds God through the act of prayer.
In Santa Clara Museum's painting, Selaphiel is depicted frontally. This lack of movement is highlighted by the green tunic, which falls listlessly from his shoulders.
The serene quality of the character, allows viewers to focus their gaze on the piece of paper and the golden light that bursts from the upper edges of the painting, symbolizing God.
Uriel (archangel) (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum
Archangel Uriel: God's Flame
Uriel’s iconography, like that of many of these
angelical beings, came from a variety of sources, including Chaldean and
Syrian texts, and apocryphal books of the Old Testament.
According to the Book of Enoch, his name signifies “God’s flame” because his function is to illuminate the deepest parts of the underworld. For this reason, his principal symbol is a flame, which he holds in a tight fist. He is associated with death, since he shines a light, which guides the souls in the afterlife.
In this painting, Uriel is represented frontally, walking towards a forest, the movement is indicated by his feet and his windswept garments.
His vestments are composed by a grey tunic, a green skirt, and a golden mantle, which he holds with one of his hands.
Unlike the other archangels, this composition emphasizes Uriel’s contemplative state. The dark forest lurking on the edges of the painting and the ominous mountains in the background highlight his gaze, which is focused on the distant horizon.
Jehudiel (archangel) (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum
Archangel Jehudiel: Meditation exercises
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) promoted meditation
as an exercise of self-reflection. This belief allowed the cult to Jehudiel, who is a meditative
archangel, to be transferred from Gnostic to Catholic beliefs.
Generally he is depicted with two objects: a whip, which is a symbol of penitence, and the Bible, signifying the act of meditation through the reading of Holy Scriptures.
This painting, made by an anonymous artist, places Jehudiel in the middle of a mountainous landscape, highlighting his gestures and features.
His white tunic is adorned with gold and silver motifs and his skirt is a muted golden color. The viewer can also admire the bright yellow mantle that is draped across his right shoulder.
Jehudiel's still figure highlights his meditative state. The bible, which he holds with his left hand, emits a bright, golden light and his eyes look up to the heavens.
Archangel (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum
An unnamed Archangel
Even though most of the archangels housed in the Santa Clara Museum can be recognized thanks to their symbols or the inscriptions, there is one that is yet to be identified.
It’s possible that this image is another representation of Michael the Archangel because it's depicted with an armor and a spear. Michael is known as the commander of the celestial armies.
The spike of wheat symbolizes the body of the savior and is associated with the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist. This symbol suggests that this figure could be a middle figure in Christian angelology.
His contemplative gaze also alludes to figures like Jehuediel, Uriel, and Selaphiel.
This combination of symbols and attributes invite viewers to figure out his identity and the role it plays in Santa Clara Museum's collection of archangels.
Figures of divinity
The presence of the archangels in the highest part of the vault of the Santa Clara Museum highlight the ideas that flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries. These works illustrate the devotional practices promoted by the Council of Trent. Figures like Jehudiel and Selaphiel, which embrace meditation, show how prayer and acts of contemplation are key in reaching God.
Museum Director: María Constanza Toquica Clavijo
Museology: Manuel Amaya Quintero
Editorial: Tanit Barragán Montilla
Collection Management: Paula Ximena Guzmán López
Curatorship: Anamaría Torres Rodríguez, Diego Felipe López Aguirre
Communications: Juan Camilo Cárdenas Urrego