Culture Magazine

Monday 12th December - Angel of Splendours

By Kirsty Stonell Walker @boccabaciata
Halfway through Angelvent already! The majority of my presents are wrapped and I wrote all my Christmas cards last night.  That's a job that can make you feel unChristmas-y.  I was heard to mutter that we knew far too many people and should make more of an effort to be objectionable next year so I wouldn't have to write so many sodding cards.  It was alright for Mary and Joseph, they had a massive star and a bunch of angels to do their Christmas wishes.  I bet they'd be a tad less holy if they had to send cards, not least because the price of stamps is alarming. Anyway, talking of angels...

Monday 12th December - Angel of Splendours

Angel of Splendours (1894) Jean Delville

Nothing says Christmas like a bit of Belgian Symbolism, but I have to admit that his work is extraordinary and when I got looking I knew quite a few of his paintings.  This is stunning - an exploration between body and soul, the earthly and the spiritual, what holds us down and what lets us fly.  In this work we have a rather beautiful young man who attempting to free himself from the world and soar with the angel to the heavens.  The angel is a sliver of gold, her hair a crown of light and her ivory legs that go on for ever.  She is made of smooth beams of light, but he is all-too-human flesh, his ribs shaded, his muscles slight.  The angels wings encompass the man, and her skirts break over him like waves but it isn't at all certain that he will escape to be a heavenly creature.  In fact, it looks rather more like he is flailing while remaining firmly planted on the ground.

Monday 12th December - Angel of Splendours

Detail of the above - toad!

In the bottom right-hand corner we have all that is holding the man to the earth.  At first glance it seems a dark mass, unpleasant in contrast to the golden glow of the angel, but on closer look there are roses, berries, thistles and russet leaves.  There is a golden butterfly, similar to the ones in Venus Verticordia's halo, and snakes that curl around him, but most peculiarly there is a toad.  I'm not sure you can get less angelic than a stroppy looking toad.

Monday 12th December - Angel of Splendours

Head of a Woman (1897)

The inestimable Mr Walker used to work with a chap who was Belgian, a thoroughly lovely chap, who had some Belgian Symbolist portraits hung by his office in the museum.  They were really beautiful, and it is an artistic movement of which  I never get tired of seeing more. There is a beautiful relationship between their work and that of the Pre-Raphaelites, sometimes directly as in the case of Ferdinand Knopff's I Lock the Door Upon Myself (1891) and sometimes just in the shared style and subject matter. Delville's angels are beautiful but there is a hint that they might not exactly be here for our salvation.  In fact, they look like they are far too good for us as we sit in the mud surrounded by toads and snakes.

Monday 12th December - Angel of Splendours

Angel of Splendours (1899)

Some of them are quite scary too.  Possibly in this case it's a good thing they are not here for us...
There is a wonderful site for Jean Delville here for those who want to know more.  See you tomorrow...

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

Magazine