by A Kladov

Artists often picture Angels as beautiful, white people with dove-like wings and celestial light, the image taken from the Renaissance paintings of angels. This article will explore some of the best-known angel paintings. We’ll also have a look at the differences between the biblical angels and those in art.

A Brief Overview of Angels in Artistry

Even those not affiliated with religious beliefs or the concept of angels are familiar with their depiction. Their omnipresence in artistry plays a pivotal role in this recognition. Iconic angelic artworks resonate with individuals across diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. There's a widely accepted notion of an angel's appearance, and it's intriguing to contrast this with biblical descriptions.

This article won't emphasize that angels aren't for Christians. They're acknowledged in various faiths, including Islam and Judaism. Many artists discussed herein received commissions from Catholic establishments, which likely influenced their creative choices.

There's a variance in angelic perceptions across Christian sects.

A significant portion of Christians endorses the nine-tiered angelic hierarchy, implying not every angel communicates directly with the Divine. Not all angels concern themselves with human affairs. Seraphim, the six-winged entities closest to the Divine, occupy the pinnacle of this hierarchy, while common angels are at its base.

It's noteworthy to juxtapose the Bible's angelic descriptions with artists' renditions. For instance, the Bible describes cherubim as entities with four wings and faces, encompassing a lion, ox, and human. They possess hooves and are enveloped in eyes.

The "cherubs" familiar to us today have roots in Greco-Roman myths, previously termed as putto. Donatello is the artist responsible for combining the putto and the Biblical Cherubims. This was done to bridge the gap between pagan and Christian iconography.

His artworks inspired many other Renaissance artists.

Famous Angel Paintings

Here are some of the most famous paintings of angels in art history. Most of them were painted during Renaissance and Baroque times. Artists from other periods were also inspired to create angelic artworks.

The Sistine Madonna (c. 1512-1513) by Raphael

Sistine Madonna, Raphael
Raphael, Sistine Madonna, 1512 – 1513

Raphael is known for his Sistine Madonna, one of the most famous works of art. Pope Julius requested it in 1512. It was created for the Piacenza monastery in San Sisto. It is often referred to as Madonna di San Sisto.

Although the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus are at the center of the painting, they are not its most famous feature. This role is played by the two cherubs staring boldly into the sky at the bottom.

The Conversion of Saint Paul (c. 1542-1545) by Michelangelo

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Michelangelo
Michelangelo, The Conversion of Saint Paul, 1542 – 1545

Pope Paul III commissioned the Conversion of Saint Paul for the Vatican Palace. This famous painting of an angel depicts how Saul became Paul, the apostle.

Saul tries to avoid the world of Christians in the story. After he was confronted by God, as shown in the picture, he changed his ways and converted to Christianity. The painting shows God surrounded by his army of angels, adding drama to the picture.

This painting shows the move towards Mannerism in its bright colors and chaotic composition.

Saint Francis in Ecstasy (c. 1595) by Caravaggio

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, Caravaggio
Caravaggio, Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, 1595

Caravaggio is a Baroque painter. Caravaggio is best known for his dramatic use of the chiaroscuro (which contrasts light and shadows) technique and his turbulent lifestyle. He still received many commissions from Catholic churches despite the scandals he caused. Saint Francis in Ecstasy was among them. Saint Francis is portrayed in this painting lying in the arms of an angel after receiving stigmata, the wounds of Christ.

Caravaggio’s version is beautiful and serene, very different from the Biblical rendition. The Bible depicts the angel as a six-winged seraph who inflicts crucifixion injuries on St Francis.

The Triumph of Victory (c. 1614) By Peter Paul Rubens

The Triumph of Victory, Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, The Triumph of Victory, 1614

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter who became famous during the Baroque era. Triumph of Victory has all the drama and energy of a typical Baroque picture. The painting shows a victor standing over the bodies of his enemies.

The winged goddess of triumph places a crown upon his head to let audiences know that he won in a divine way. Victory's depiction is in the classic Rubenesque fashion, with a voluptuous, plump body honoring the female figure. She wears purple silk with wings that resemble angels.

Her wings are more like those of a pheasant than a dove. As a symbol, Pheasants are associated with masculinity and dominance, which contrasts with her soft, sensual appearance.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel(1659), by Rembrandt

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Rembrandt
Rembrandt, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1659

Many consider Rembrandt to be the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt painted many biblical scenes in his early works, such as Jacob wrestling the Angel. However, he later focused more on landscape and portrait painting. Jacob Wrestling the Angel tells a story from Genesis about Jacob fighting an unknown figure. Jacob fights with the unknown figure all night long. In the morning, he realizes it is an angel who blesses him and tells him that his name is now Israel. 

Many thought it was a dream. However, it has been reported that Israel, the newly-named boy, had been injured in the fight after the brawl.

The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846) by J. M. W. Turner

The Angel, Standing in the Sun, Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Angel, Standing in the Sun, 1846

J. M. W. Turner is a British Romantic painter whose work has been celebrated worldwide. Turner's paintings can be identified by their unique use of color and light. Turner is most famous for his naval art, but he also dabbled in religious art later in his life. The Angel, Standing In the Sun, appears to be a golden haze at first glance.

However, the painting is rife with violence and death. Archangel Gabriel is depicted in the middle, with a sword of flaming flames, to attempt to bring peace to earth.

A Soul Carried to Heaven (c. 1878) William-Adolphe Bouguereau

A Soul Carried to Heaven, William-Adolphe Bouguereau
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, A Soul Carried to Heaven, 1878

William-Adolphe Bouguereau is a French academic artist. He was interested in Neoclassical painting, while most of his peers pursued impressionism. The Renaissance masters influenced Bouguereau because of his time in Rome. Bouguereau painted many characters and creatures from Greek mythology, such as satyrs and nymphs. Two angels carry a young woman in a shroud into the heavens.

This scene is peaceful and beautiful, not depressing. Bouguereau, who outlived most of his children and was a widower, probably found comfort in this image.

Angel (1887) by Abbott Handerson Thayer

Angel, Abbott Handerson Thayer
Abbott Handerson Thayer, Angel, 1887

Abbott Handerson Thayer is an American author and artist. Angle, his most famous angel painting, is what people remember him for. Thayer was an eccentric artist who tried to add meaning to his paintings. He was adamant that the virtues of women should be admired over their physical appearance. His angelic subjects praised his purity.

Vision After the Sermon (1888) by Paul Gauguin

Vision After the Sermon, Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888

Paul Gauguin, a French painter, helped to shape several art movements, including Post-Impressionism and Primitivism. The Vision After the Sermon was one of Gauguin's most famous Post-Impressionist works. Gauguin was inspired by the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling the angel, although this is not your typical famous angel painting.

A combination of heavy symbolism and large, pure areas of color characterizes Gauguin's paintings. This gives them a comical look.

L'Amour et Psyche (Children) by William Adolphe Bouguereau

L’Amour et Psyche, enfants, William-Adolphe Bouguereau
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, L’Amour et Psyche, enfants, 1890

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's L'Amour et Psyche (or Eros et Psyche in English) is one of his most famous works. The painting is an excellent example of Renaissance paintings of angels, as Bouguereau's art was influenced by this period.

Bouguereau uses Psyche's expressions in the cherub to convey Eros' love for her and her sadness about being away from her family. The story of Eros and Psyche so touched Bouguereau that he painted three different paintings featuring them throughout his career.

Angels are now part of popular culture thanks to artists from all over history. Even though they take on many shapes in famous angel paintings, they still convey the notions of beauty, power, and God. You can explore more famous angel paintings if you like them.


What Angel Painting is the Most Well-Known?

Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna (1512-1514) is one of the most well-known paintings featuring angels. The two cherubs on the bottom of the painting have become icons in pop culture, even though they are not at the center. Over the past 500 years, many reproductions have been painted. On postcards, they are usually shown with a beer and a cigarette.

Why Did Angels Become the Objects of Paintings of Renaissance Artists?

Angels were famous in Renaissance art for a variety of reasons. First, the Catholic Church patronized religious art. Second, soft-looking, angelic women dominated the beauty standards at that time. Therefore, it was logical to create artwork with similar desirable characteristics. Angels, as messengers of God, were also synonymous with the Renaissance's idea of enlightenment.