The Archangels Recognized By The Church

Angelic iconography has played an important role in religious art.

By Santa Clara Museum

Archangel MichaelSanta Clara Museum

Archangel Michael: defender of the faith
This image, by an unknown author, represents a
young man with an armor, a helmet with a red and blue feathered plume, holding
a cross in his right hand.

Close to his mouth we read a Latin inscription, QVIS CICVD DEVS, which means “Who [is] like God?”. Faced with the rebellion of Lucifer and the other fallen angels, Michael the Archangel asks this question. His answer, “None like God”, indicates his faithfulness.

This painting distances itself from the classical iconography of the defeated devil lying under the archangel's feet. This archangel is represented as a defender of the faith, holding the cross, symbol of Christ.

Contrapposto is a technique that creates dynamism and contrast. In this painting, this technique is applied to the body, the arms and legs in particular, which ultimately creates an illusion of movement.

The chromatic contrast between the metallic grey of the armor, the yellow skirt, the red robe freely fluttering behind him, and the golden background emphasize the angel's movement.

This visual effect is also shown in the face's composition. The head is slightly tilted while the Archangel gazes directly at the viewer. This creates a sense of dynamism and power over those who contemplate it.

Michael (archangel) (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum

Archangel Michael: heavenly warrior and protector
This representation of the Archangel Michael is attributed to the colonial painter Baltasar Vargas de Figueroa (1629c-1667). Unlike the anonymous canvas of the same subject, this painting shows a solemn and static archangel.

The idea of movement is depicted in the red cape falling effortlessly from his shoulders. His left palm is open, an open gesture that establishes a relationship with the viewer.

This static figure is held in place by the golden background. The gaze of the viewer is fixed on the imposing figure of the Archangel. Michael the Archangel is recognized by his armor, cape, and cane. His sword, which hangs from his belt, is a symbol of the justice that will be imparted to all souls on Judgment Day.

This figure is closely associated with death, which is why this painting is located near the crypt, where the patrons of the Santa Clara convent, María Arias de Ugarte and her husband, Juan de Zapían, are buried.

The presence of two images of Michael the Archangel could be explained by the fact that around 1667, there was a confraternity of twelve men and twelve women dedicated to the cult of the archangel in Santa Clara. The members of the community may have commissioned both paintings. This association, with the help of its patron saint, aimed to defend the Catholic religion in the context of the Counter-reformation.

Gabriel (archangel) (XVIIth century) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum

Archangel Gabriel: the celestial herald
Another angelical being widely known in Christian
art is Saint Gabriel. One of the most popular mentions of this angel is found in the Gospel of Luke, where the archangel was sent by God to announce the conception of Jesus to Mary. This is why this angel has been identified as a celestial herald, and is generally accompanied by a dove, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. 

In this oil painting the angel is shown as a young man wearing a red robe decorated with silver elements. His grey skirt has golden details, his silver and gold stole crisscrosses his chest, and a small crown signals his divinity.

Gabriel’s body is framed by a generic landscape, which helps focus the gaze of the spectator on the celestial being.

Among the depicted archangels, this one gives a great illusion of movement due to its contrapposto, a technique that establishes a harmonious contrast between the position of legs and the arms.

His right index finger points to the Holy Spirit.

His left hand holds a bouquet of lilies, which symbolizes Mary’s Virginity.

Raphael (archangel) (XVIIth century) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum

Archangel Raphael: God’s healer
Raphael is the last of the three archangels
recognized by the Catholic Church. Mentioned in the biblical Book of Tobit, this angel appeared to
the prophet Tobit, informing him that if he caught a fish, its gall would cure his wife’s (Sarah) blindness and if he boiled the animal's heart and liver, it would frighten away the demon that was tormenting Sarah.

Scorzo is a visual technique that creates an illusion of depth. In this case, it gives Saint Raphael a sense dynamism. This technique is employed by dividing the painting into two planes, particularly the body, giving Saint Raphael a great sense of movement.

In the first plane, Raphael is wearing a chain mail made of scales and he is daintily holding a fish with his right hand. His right arm is slightly higher and his hand has a firm grip on the staff.

The second plane is the background, where we see a river a flow and a bridge where Raphael caught the fish.

During the Colonial era, canvases were expensive, so the common practice was to reuse old ones. In this painting, we see a face peering out from above the angel's head.

Like Gabriel's image, this archangel creates the sensation of movement thanks to the position of his legs, the red cape flowing behind him, and the visual diagonal created by the position of the arms. His posture and gestures are enclosed by a detailed landscape and rich mantle.

Guardian Angel (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum

The Guardian Angel: The connection with God
The guardian angel, according to the Catholic tradition, guides his protégés on the right path, allowing then to enter heaven. The guardian angel serves as a bridge, uniting people on earth with God through prayer. His cult began to spread during the sixteenth century thanks to his protective role.

The angel peers down towards the innocent child, while his left hand points to the divine light. This diagonal created by the position of his arms symbolize this connection between God and humanity.

In this painting, the guardian angel holds with his right hand, a censer, an object that was used as a purifier in Roman rites.

With this composition, the canvas of the Santa Clara Museum creates an illusion of dynamism.

Raphael (archangel) (XVIIth century) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum

The Divine

These paintings demonstrate the importance of angels through time, because their figures have been part of the devotional practices of many monotheistic religions. Just as in the Colonial era, today the presence of these feathered figures is not limited to the old temple's altar, they still inhabit our collective imagination.

Credits: Story

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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