- Angels and Demons in Art
Angels and Demons in Art is the English edition by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles of the Italian publication Angeli e demoni (Mondadori Electa S.p.A., Milan, 2003), by Rosa Giorgi, edited by Stefano Zuffi and translated by Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia. It is the seventh volume in the Getty's "A Guide to Imagery," series. The book is a handy reference, measuring 7.9 × 5.5 inches and containing over 350 pages of illustrations with small, short textual supplements. As one would expect from this publisher, the reproductions are of outstanding quality. This is no casual excursion into an exotic spiritual realm but a serious pictorial art-history essay.
Through text and annotations to the images this book explores the topics of angels and demons by looking not at simple binary oppositions but at a broader thematic context. It should not be confused with many of the existing illustrated books on angels and/ or demons that are often serendipitous collections either driven by a dichotomy between good/evil, heaven/earth, angel/demon or that simply focus on the variety of angelic depictions throughout history as an iconographic exploration. Giorgi's approach, as an art historian specializing in iconography, is as one would expect: very different, innovative and illuminating. Her treatment of the subject is an exploration of the vast spectrum of human imaginary and metaphysical aspirations—a sophisticated and subtle journey, including the unconscious, the imaginary, the religious and the fantastic, as well as a philosophical, theological and art-historical discourse in a compilation that might be described as a pictorial, iconographic anthology of the human imaginary.
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The historical narrative structure follows an imaginary spiritual path that leads "from earth to Heaven," as evoked in the introduction. It ventures from the myths of creation, the earthly paradise, the underworld, hell and fire, to transitory realms such as Jacob's ladder and resurrection into heavenly realms to the angelic hierarchies, ending with the archangels. This journey also includes particular topics, such as nightmares, psychomachy ("struggle of the soul"), ghosts, dragons, demonic animals, the ship of fools, homo bulla ("Man is a bubble"), rebel angels, the antichrist, torments, macabre dances, the Tetramorph, Ars moriendi ("the art of dying"), prayer and ecstasy, the Ladder of Virtues—to mention only a few. Mixing angels and demons (in their broadest sense) affects the range of the collection dramatically. Hieronymus Bosch (with the highest score of 11 index references for artists) and William Blake have their place in this narrative as well as Francisco Goya, with his depiction of witches and nightmares, Eugenio Lucas y Velasquez and Albrecht Dürer (following Bosch as second, with eight index references). These stalwarts of the history of the darker realms of the imagination appear amongst the more traditional, classical masters of religious iconography, from the first centuries BCE to a strong presence of medieval religious art to 20th-century paintings by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Carlo Carrà, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. This novel listing is interesting, but it is not the book's primary focus, nor is it an anthology intended to cover a specific period, geographical region or religious ideology. Rather, it is a collection of European iconography from outstanding artworks throughout history, [End Page 98] used to illuminate the depths and width of human aspirations into other realms and metaphysical ideas and concepts.
To keep this free-ranging enquiry under control, Giorgi has structured the chapters into themes, from humankind looking at the spiritual world in different perspectives to the depiction of the spiritual realms themselves, concluding with a chapter on the angelic imaginary. Within each chapter the overall theme is split into several sub-themes, such as the theme "The Path of Salvation" in the second chapter, which treats the topics Classical Antecedents (Hercules at the Cross-roads), Psychomachy, Overcoming Temptation, Works of Mercy, Jacob's Ladder, The Ladder of Virtues, The Trial of Job, Prayer and...