Virgin and Child Crowned by One Angel
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)
Virgin and Child Crowned by One Angel
Engraving, 1520
Virgin and Child Crowned by One Angel

Angels and Divine Light


Radiant light emanating from a celestial figure or the heavens has long been one of the clearest ways to suggest divinity in art. Artists seeking to convey the power and favor of God through visible means, often use angels and heavenly light, offering inspiring imagery in order for humans to connect with the divine. Often, these concepts are joined so that we see angels bearing and emanating such light themselves, conveying their connection to God, and God’s intentions for humankind.

Angels are important figures in Christian, Hebrew and Islamic theology. The word “angel” is derived from the Greek angelos, meaning messenger. Through the centuries, artists have portrayed angels in a myriad of ways. Scriptural stories mentioning angels offer rich, specific tales to be told in art. Angel imagery developed within artistic practice and traditions, and the beings begin to appear of different ages and genders as the centuries progressed.

Visual and metaphorical representations of divine light have also been fundamentally important in Christian art since its origins. Sheets of flattened divine light striking towards earth show us moments of celestial inspiration, conversion, or messages. The halo is an area of light painted or drawn behind the heads of divine or sacred persons to identify their holiness. These metaphorical representations of light commonly adorn angels, saints, and the Holy Family. Special kinds of halos are reserved for Christ and God the Father.

Printmakers often use blank, or white, space to suggest these radiant halos to great effect. Albrecht Dürer, for example, in his Virgin and Child Crowned by One Angel, effectively staggers the onset of radiating lines around Mary and Christ allowing negative space between their heads and the continued lines to suggest emanating brilliant light. In addition to Christ’s rayed halo, and Mary’s circular halo of light, an angel hovers above Mary, further crowning her as the Queen of Heaven.