October 18, 2012 by Gail Armstrong
Angels, not surprisingly, are a popular subject in illuminated manuscripts. And they don’t just hover about singing and playing harps – they get up to an impressive array of activity. Here are just a few of the activities angels get up to, either on the job or in their spare time…
1. They annunciate.
Here the angel Gabriel informs a remarkably unruffled virgin that she will soon be giving birth to the son of God, while a playful Lord Almighty shoots either a paper airplane or a holy dove at his head, while also dropping his doll. Apparently the virgin is not amused.
[Annunciation, Cutting from a 15th century Bohemian choir book]
2. They spear dragons.
Here the archangel Michael deals with an unwanted pest. No need for fancy traps or dangerous chemicals — just get the job done with an old-fashioned spear. Quick and painless. For you, if not the dragon.
[The Stowe Breviary, English, between 1322 and 1325]
3. They get dressed up in ermine tippets, gold clasps and robes of scarlet feathers – your standard garb for fancier annunciations.
Either that or he’s on fire.
[Book of Hours, use of Sarum, S.E. England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th c.]
4. They practice violin.
Proper tone requires keeping the wings erect while contorting the neck.
[Part of the full border with angel and dragon, at the beginning of Justinian’s Digestum Vetus, France, c. 1300 – 1310]
5. They take their time examining swatches for the perfect palatial curtains.
With that muted colour-way, you can’t go wrong with white!
[The Bury Gosepels, England, 1st half of the 11th c.]
6. They crown popes.
Don’t we all?
[Attributed to Joachim of Fiore, Vaticinia de Pontificibus, Florence, 2nd quarter of 15th c.]
7. They make bunny ears while their friend has his portrait painted.
Now that’s just childish.
[John of Patmos with angel, Prayer Book, Netherlands, 1486]
8. They get tied up in knots over minor things like seven-headed dragons underfoot.
Easy to do when you have three sets of wings. (Anyone else wondering if he’s in his birthday suit under that front set of wings?)
[Peraldus, Theological Miscellany, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th c.]
9. They help friends who’ve had a bit too much of the sacramental wine get home safely.
Because angels don’t let friends drink and drive.
[This is actually Jacob wrestling with an angel, from an English Psalter created in Oxford, in the 1st quarter of the 13th c.]
10. Other times they watch friends make BIG mistakes…no, Eve, don’t do it!
You know, he has a sword – he could have smote (smitten?) that suspiciously dragon-like serpent and saved a lot of us a lot of pain and strife, not to mention death and damnation.
[Giovanno Boccaccio, De claris mulieribus, France, c. 1440]
11. Sometimes they get into a tussle…
Usually with friends who’ve had a bit too much of the sacramental wine.
[Actually it’s Jacob wrestling with the angel again. Guiart des Moulins, Bible Historiale, France, between 1403 and 1404]
12. But later they kiss and make up.
It’s the angelic thing to do.
[Yes, it’s Jacob wrestling with that angel again…they have a weird relationship. From Les Anciennes Histoires rommaines, France, last quarter of the 14th c.]
13. They blow their ceremonial trumpet causing huge mountains burning with fire to be cast into the sea and turning one-third of the sea into blood.
I’d recommend staying away from trumpet-playing angels.
[Peter of Peckham, The Welles Apocalypse, England, 1st quarter of the 14th c.]
14. They do battle with ultimate evil.
You do want these angels on your side, despite their, shall we say, stiff fighting posture.
[Also from The Welles Apocalypse, England, 1st quarter of the 14th c.]
15. And finally, they lead a lucky few to Heaven while leaving the rest of us to be boiled into devil stew.
[Angel, with Devil boiling sinners, Laurent d’Orleans, La somme le roi, France, 2nd quarter of the 14th c.]
But seriously, I wonder if people who make entirely good-natured, if potentially disrespectful, comments about images of angels have any chance of not ending up in the pot?
Disclaimer: No disrespect intended – just having a little fun. (Surely a Supreme Being who tosses paper airplanes at annunciating archangels — not to mention who immaculately impregnates unsuspecting virgins — can take a joke?]