More About Angels

Raphael's angels cropped

Last week, we looked at a guardian angel depicted as an elegant winged protector of children. This week I thought it would be fun to look at another familiar depiction of angels. Most everyone is familiar with these two chubby-cheeked cherubs painted by Raphael around 1514. What many don’t know is that they are part of a larger painting (see below).

For centuries, angels have appeared in some of the world’s greatest works of art. The earliest artistic rendition of an angel is found in the 3rd Century Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome. The angel is quite crudely drawn and doesn’t have wings. In the 4th century, angels as we know them, with wings and youthful looks, appear for the very first time. From then on, angels were regularly incorporated in works of art as floating figures to accentuate the transcendent nature of the event depicted in the painting. Since Scripture is a little vague on what an angel exactly looks like, artists have had plenty of room for creativity. 

The two precocious angels in Raphael’s painting were separated from their place in the larger work in 1803 and have gone on to have a wonderful solo career. A complete list of all the things they have adorned would be impossible and incomplete. I love their messed-up hair and wistful contemplation, as if they just landed and are catching their breath after a long flight. One story has it that Raphael based the cherubs on two children he saw looking into a baker’s window.

Like many things, the Bible leaves a lot of room for interpretation. No one knows exactly what an angel looks like—yet I have seen many of them in my life. This week I said goodbye to my friend, Mary Lou. When I was just starting out after college with no family nearby, she took me in and made me a part of her family. She was an angel. Other angels have called just when I needed a pick-me-up; they have fixed my broken car by the side of the road; they have given me directions when I was hopelessly lost; and brought over supper after I had surgery. I could go on and on because—thank God—many angels have happened upon my path.

Being Human Connection: How about you? Where has an angel shown up in your life? And where have you been the angel for someone else?

Original painting from whence the cherubs come.

Raphael, “The Sistine Madonna” 1514, Dresden, Germany

Raphael's angels