A year ago I was in Florence, and I found myself collecting angels. On December 21, the darkest day of the year in North America, I’m thinking we could do with a few angels to watch over us.
I’d be looking at a masterpiece like this “tondo” (round painting) in the Uffizi Gallery and then I’d go in for a closeup of the angels. Lorenzo di Credi painted “Adoration of the Christ Child” between 1505-15. (The placard says it’s an unfinished painting, but I’d like to even start a painting this good).
There are a lot of angels in Italy. In Florence, anybody with an angel phobia would be out of luck. Some angels travel in crowds, as in Beato Angelico’s “Glorification of the Virgin with Angels and Saints,” c. 1434-5.
In Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, there was new interest in the individuality of ordinary humans, and their importance in the scheme of things. This carried over into the portrayal of angels and saints as well. Each personality is distinct.
Fittingly, the crowd of human saints is placed closer to the viewer than the troops of angels. But some angels mix right in with the humans, and they pretty much look like regular humans with wings.
Sometimes, baby angel-faces with double sets of wings float around in clouds. Those above are from “The Trinity and Saints Benedict and Giovanni Gualberto,” 1470, a panel by an unknown artist, taken from the Church of Santa Trinita and now in the Uffizi. (Sometimes, glare got in the way of my photos and I had to sort of mosey over to the side to get a halfway-clear image).
I especially like this toddler angel in her Sunday best, from the same panel.
Angels like music a lot.
The two above are celebrating “The Crowning of the Virgin,” a panel by an unknown painter around 1470-1480. Again, there are the double-winged angel-babies.
Some angels have especially colorful wings, not to mention their bright robes.
The elegant angels above are from a very grand altarpiece by Lorenzo Monaco, around 1414.
One of Filippo Lippi’s most famous paintings, “Madonna and Child with Two Angels,” wowed everyone in 1460, and still does. Do the humans look just like angels, or vice versa? The friar’s fresh take on a traditional theme influenced any number of other artists, including Sandro Botticelli.
My photos hardly do justice to Botticelli’s sublime “Annunciation,” 1481. His angel looks half real, half apparition and all beautiful.
In Neri di Bicci’s “Annunciation,” 1465, the starring angel, Gabriel, has brought along a couple of mini-me’s to help out.
I love their modest expressions. They’re not even looking up at the action, just there to do their job.
Actually, my favorite angels are often the ones off to the side of the action, like the one in the lower right-hand corner of one of Filippo Lippi’s most important paintings, “Coronation of the Virgin,” 1439-47. It’s a monumental painting–it is no wonder he worked on it for years.
I especially like the gentle angel in the corner, unfurling a banner but not calling attention to herself.
Time to leave the galleries and wander the narrow streets of Florence, where the glorious Duomo dominates. The cathedral was begun in 1296, just before the dawn of the Renaissance in Florence. It was completed in 1496 when Filippo Brunelleschi figured out how to top it off with his glorious dome. (Over the centuries, the builders must have figured, “Well, how hard can it be?” But eventually they discovered they’d built too big for any known dome construction).
Finally, in the 19th century, Emilio De Fabris frosted the cake by adding the pink, green and white marble Gothic Revival facade. He stuck a welcoming angel next to the main entrance.
Whatever theology or non-theology one has, I think angel-collecting is a fine way to spend time in Florence, or anyplace where there’s fine art.