How can one draw out angelic symbolism in a painting? There is a wide variety of angel paintings out there, from traditional and historical, to modern and sensational, to sweet angel pictures designed for greeting cards and children, to even the strange and slightly sinister! Yet all these types of art share the same subject. And that's not all; though it varies through different paintings and artists, symbolism can play a significant role in these paintings of beings from tradition and legend. But how can you look beyond aesthetic appearance to read what the symbolism and style is really trying to tell you?
Although many angel paintings can be described as beautiful, there is a lot more going on than aesthetic taste. Everything within the painting, from the color choice, setting, clothing, pose and objects within angel paintings can be drawn from research of individual angels. In the early middle ages, angels were often painted on gold backgrounds. One painting of Gabriel shows her floating in a serene attitude that clearly indicates she is not part of this world. As the artistic style progressed into the Renaissance, the background changed to more realistic scenery. Angels were now connected to nature and the world of man. Fast forward a little farther into the Renaissance, and you see the angel Gabriel still winged and with a halo, but the emphasis on realistic painting so important in this period has a fully shaded angel kneeling on the floor of a building done in one point perspective. In modern times new angel art has emerged.
In the twentieth century soft renditions of women angels with sweet expressions has become the standard, indicating an idyllic heaven where pain is not known. But as art in general in this past century has become diverse, angel art is as well. Fantasy art shows angels in paintings that feel more dramatic in a variety of ways, whether due to strong contrast in shading, action taking place (such as the angels of light and dark at war), or a very emotional scene such as a crying or fallen angel. Surreal art has portrayed angels in a number of ways, from futuristic to dark and even in strange forms that barely resemble winged humans, (although their appearance is true to biblical interpretations, such as Metatron having numerous faces, wings, and eyes).
Again the question, how can one draw out angelic symbolism in a painting? How we perceive angels through culture influences how artists interpret and produce angel paintings. If artistic style continues to become more personal and individual, it can be assumed that angel art will continue to grow more personal in nature as well. You can incorporate not only literal descriptions in art, but legends and things that were associated symbolically with the individual angels. These are just a few examples of how angel paintings and other art are layered with symbolism, and how this artwork has evolved through history.
Arwen de Lyon is an emerging fantasy watercolor artist who has shown her work at a number of galleries in North Carolina, as well as both local and regional fantasy conventions. She has won several awards, including Philcon's "Best Aspiring Professional Artist" award.
You can view Arwen's angel paintings and additional fantasy art and connect with her online: