Angels – They’re Just Like Us!

1

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.

Annunciation

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]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=36827

2. They spear dragons.

Michael the Archangel

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]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=11411

3. They get dressed up in ermine tippets, gold clasps and robes of scarlet feathers – your standard garb for fancier annunciations.

Annunciation

Either that or he’s on fire.

[Book of Hours, use of Sarum, S.E. England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th c.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=3168

4. They practice violin.

Detail: border

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]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=5120

5. They take their time examining swatches for the perfect palatial curtains.

Angel

With that muted colour-way, you can’t go wrong with white!

[The Bury Gosepels, England, 1st half of the 11th c.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=47194

6. They crown popes.

Angel crowning a pope

Don’t we all?

[Attributed to Joachim of Fiore, Vaticinia de Pontificibus, Florence, 2nd quarter of 15th c.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=51700

7. They make bunny ears while their friend has his portrait painted.

John of Patmos

Now that’s just childish.

 [John of Patmos with angel, Prayer Book, Netherlands, 1486]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=39582

8. They get tied up in knots over minor things like seven-headed dragons underfoot.

Angels

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.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=21479

9. They help friends who’ve had a bit too much of the sacramental wine get home safely.

Jacob wrestling with the angel

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.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=47956

10. Other times they watch friends make BIG mistakes…no, Eve, don’t do it!

Eve

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]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=40099

11. Sometimes they get into a tussle…

Jacob and the angel

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]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=22274

12. But later they kiss and make up.

Jacob wrestling with an angel

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.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=41909

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.

Second angel sounding his trumpet

I’d recommend staying away from trumpet-playing angels.

[Peter of Peckham, The Welles Apocalypse, England, 1st quarter of the 14th c.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=34986

14. They do battle with ultimate evil.

War in heaven

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.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=35001

15. And finally, they lead a lucky few to Heaven while leaving the rest of us to be boiled into devil stew.

Last Judgement

[Angel, with Devil boiling sinners, Laurent d’Orleans, La somme le roi, France, 2nd quarter of the 14th c.]

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=40177

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?]

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One thought on “Angels – They’re Just Like Us!

  1. the first three letters and their ornate style are absolutely gorgeous!

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