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#1 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 06:48 PM

In my few years within Orthodoxy I've seen many icons of angels: guardian angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim and there seem to be certain standards that govern their depiction...like seraphim are shown as angel faces surrounded by six wings; each of the archangels has particular paraphernalia and garments associated with them, etc.

But those above are not all the types of angels we acknowledge. What I am wondering is what are the iconic conventions that govern the representation of less talked about angelic choirs such as thrones, powers, etc. I think once very early on in my journey to Orthodoxy I saw an image that included a winged circle as indicating either a throne or a power....I forget which.

Can anyone enlighten me more on how our less well known angelic choirs are represented in icons?

#2 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 03:12 AM

I can not verify much of what I am about to say ... I am working off years of being in the Orthodox church and the tradition I have grown up in ...

I know that an icon represents or is a window into the Kingdowm of God ... as such, only icons authored through true prayer and fasting will yield a true depiction of who/what we are seeing ... and then there are the anauthored icons which God will permit for us to comprehend something that only He could reveal.

We also believe that images in the Scripture are like icons and often many icons are representing direct quotes from the Scripture ... so, in response to yoru original question ... there are many images in the Scripture of what angels look like ... you will find that there are images of animals as representing various angels etc ... this is something a lot of people arent aware of ... angels are not just winged ... I think Revelations is a good starting point ... but when I have found something more "solid" ... I will get back to you ...

So, if it is in the Scripture I guarantee that there is an icon or a church with murals out there somewhere ... but it would be such a rare find a very hard thing to trace ... or destroyed through time (ie. iconoclastic era etc)

One more time ... look to Revelations for your images of the less known angels of the higher orders ..I guarantee you they are "authored" in this book ...

Good luck.

#3 Olga

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 04:49 AM

It is interesting to note that in icons of the feast of the Assembly of the Bodiless Powers (November 8), the bodiless powers depicted are of the winged angels and archangels, as well as sometimes one or more seraphim (six wings surrounding a face).

The cherubim (winged circles containing several eyes, hence the liturgical description "many-eyed cherubim") are often seen at the foot of the throne, or under Christ's feet, in icons of Christ in Majesty. More rarely, the cherubim may be seen in mural icons in the altars of churches, as part of a representation of the heavenly liturgy, along with seraphim and angels dressed as deacons.

The Book of Revelation does refer to the other bodiless powers, but, if memory serves, I do not recall seeing any of the other bodiless powers depicted in icons, probably because no adequate "physical" description is given in scripture, unlike the clear descriptions for seraphim and cherubim in, for instance, Isaiah and Ezekiel.

Iconography can only portray what has been revealed, and if no, or an inadequate, description exists, it would be most inappropriate for an iconographer to rely on his own imagination to paint an image. Perhaps this is why only angels, archangels, seraphim and cherubim are seen in icons.

Vasiliki wrote:

you will find that there are images of animals as representing various angels etc ...


The four winged creatures (ox, eagle, lion and youth) often shown in the four corners of icons of Christ in Majesty are allegorical representations of the four Evangelists. These creatures do have a place in iconography derived from imagery in the book of Revelation, but it is quite wrong for these creatures to be labelled on such icons with the name of the requisite Evangelist. Sts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were human beings, not allegorical creatures. Unfortunately, such inscriptions do exist ...

#4 Mary Halloran Snyder

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 04:52 AM

Can anyone enlighten me more on how our less well known angelic choirs are represented in icons?


This is from The Painter's Manual of Dionysus of Fourna as translated by Paul Hetherington, it is one of my Iconography research materials. Very helpful. Answers a lot of icon related questions.

p 18

" Concerning the Nine Choirs of Angels.

There are nine choirs of Angels as shown by Dionysus the Areopagite, and they are divided into three orders.

The First Order Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. Thrones are represented as fiery wheels with wings all around and with eyes in the wings, they are all entertwined in the form of a king's throne. Cherubim have one head only and two wings. Seraphim have six wings of which two cover their faces, and two their feet and the other two as if spread for flight; in their hands each has a fan on which are these words; "Holy Holy Holy" it was like this that the prophet Isaiah saw them. The tetramorphs are represented thus: they have six wings and upon their heads each have a crown, they have the faces of angels, and they hold the Gospels before their breasts with both hands. Between the two wings above their heads there is an eagle, while there is a lion between the wings on their right, and an ox between those on their left. These animals look up and hold the Gospels their their feet. They appeared thus to the prophet Ezekiel.

The Second Order that is to say, rank -- Dominations, Powers, Virtues. These are represented wearing robes down to their feet, with girdles and greenish gold stoles, and holding golden rods in their right hands and in their left a seal with this sign (a circle with an x in it)

The Third Order -- Principalities, Archangels, Angels. These are represented wearing soldier's clothes with golden girdles. They hold spears in their hands of which the tops are pointed and have blades like axe heads."

I have seen some of these represented in the Icons on the walls of my Church, so I am going to lean toward saying this is probably correct. I have only been studying Iconography for about five years, so anyone with more experience please correct me if I have quoted in error.

Halle

#5 Vassil

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Posted 23 October 2010 - 09:54 AM

Hi,

I am a new member of this community. For a long time I am very fond of iconography (theory i.e. theology and practice). When I came upon this site I was really very impressed by the high level of the discussions.

So I would like to revive this thread by asking a question about the angelic images. As far as I know the true Orthodox icons must depict only that what is seen/revealed. Could somebody tell me then on what ground the angels are represented as humans with wings? Are there places in the Holy Scripture where the angels are described like that. Usually the antropomorphic descriptions are just of young men in shiny garments.

#6 Michael Stickles

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 04:23 PM

As far as I know the true Orthodox icons must depict only that what is seen/revealed. Could somebody tell me then on what ground the angels are represented as humans with wings? Are there places in the Holy Scripture where the angels are described like that. Usually the antropomorphic descriptions are just of young men in shiny garments.


One reason I have read is that angels are speedy messengers, and the wings symbolize that. However, wings on angels have been seen and the eyewitness testimony recorded, though not in Scripture (excluding the two-winged cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, of course). Mother Alexandra's account of seeing her guardian angel at age seven is one such story; I dimly recall others though I don't have sources at hand.

#7 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 04:53 PM

From my limited knowledge, angels having wings does seem to be established by Tradition, not explicitly from Scripture.

Of course, any messenger may be depicted with wings in iconography. Many icons of St. John the Forerunner give him wings. I believe some icons place wings upon Ss. Stephen, Lawrance and Philip...three of the first deacons of the Church, whose liturgical ministry represents the angels.

#8 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 05:01 PM

And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.Exodus 25:18-22

“Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them." Exodus 26:1

Then all the gifted artisans among them who worked on the tabernacle made ten curtains woven of fine linen, and of blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim they made them. Exodus 36:8

Moses does not go into great detail on how the cherubim are to look, one assumes that the artisans had some idea of where to start, but wings are definitely mentioned in the description of the Ark.

Herman the old testimonial Pooh

#9 Barbara Ried Johnson

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 06:55 PM

Hi,

Could somebody tell me then on what ground the angels are represented as humans with wings?


Having seen an angel during my own son's birth I can say that an angel can, presumably, appear under an infinite number of guises.
My memory of that experience has never left me. When I remember the event, it comes back to me in all its otherworldly beauty!

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 26 October 2010 - 12:25 AM.


#10 Vassil

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 06:40 PM

Attached File  balaam-and-the-angel.jpg   44.1K   94 downloads
Balaam and the Angel (Via Latina Catacombs, Rome, 3-rd C. AD)

Hi and thank you for your answers!
The description of the Ark of the Covenant is a good example. I could add to this the vision of Ezekiel but they both concern only one kind of angels (the cherubim). Another kind – the seraphim – is depicted in the vision of Isaiah.

What about the “ordinary” angels? It is interesting for example that in the oldest preserved Christian art (the frescoes in the Catacombs in Rome) the angles are represented as men without wings literally following the biblical text. The new type of angelic images obviously appeared in the time of Constantine the Great or even latter. There is a theory that the early Christian representations of angels with wings are not based on the Bible but are influenced by the imperial iconography of the winged Victorias and that this happened during the period of the “Triumphant Christianity” (4th – 5th C. AD). The issue that the imperial art have a great deal in shaping the Early Christian images is well studied by Andre Grabar (see his book “l’Empereur dans l’art byzantin”). I could accept the theory but I am still wondering if the winged figures have some old Judeo-Christian background as well.

Or… Is it possible the wings in the anthropomorphic angelic images to be considered merely symbols of the main duty of the angels - to be messengers and generally mediators? If so, the wings appear to be just secondary features as many others in the iconography (the three stars on the Virgin's maphorion for example). Then they could be taken from the imperial art without connection to some specific Christian texts.

I believe some icons place wings upon Ss. Stephen, Lawrance and Philip...three of the first deacons of the Church, whose liturgical ministry represents the angels.


Hi Benjamin,
Very interesting! I have never heard about such representations in the Orthodox art. Could you please post a link or some pictures.

Edited by Father David Moser, 26 October 2010 - 06:56 PM.


#11 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 08:57 PM

Hi Benjamin,
Very interesting! I have never heard about such representations in the Orthodox art. Could you please post a link or some pictures.


I'll look for some links. I'm honestly unsure if I'll find them. I said this because I think I remember seeing something like that once. I know St. John the Forerunner is often depicted with wings.

However, I'm not sure if I'm remembering the deacons correctly, as I'm having trouble finding those depicts. I could very well be wrong. I will keep looking, though! :-D

#12 Olga

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 10:32 AM

The only human saint I've seen iconographically portrayed with wings is St John the Baptist - in the many thousands of icons I've seen over the years, I have never seen any of the Seven Deacons with wings. However, Benjamin's comment on angelic ministry is relevant. The Heavenly Liturgy is indeed a common iconographic subject. In these icons, painted on the walls of church apses, or, in the lower segment of a church dome facing the altar, a row of angels wearing white vestments and deacon's oraria are seen conducting liturgical duties: some bear lighted candles, some have their hands raised in prayer, and there's at least one angel using a censer.

On the matter of a winged Baptist: While he is often thus portrayed, I find this somewhat problematic. He is indeed referred to liturgically as the Angel (Messenger) of the Desert, but there are also many references, including scriptural, to him "being born of woman". St John was a human being, flesh and blood, and not a bodiless heavenly creature. There are many monastic and ascetic saints who are also liturgically referred to as "earthly angels", among them Sts Anthony the Great and St Mary of Egypt, to name but two. Yet, do we ever see them portrayed with wings in their icons? No, we do not.

There is a place for symbolism in iconography (the three stars on the maphorion of the Mother of God is a great example of expressing a fundamental truth), but such symbols must not get in the way of expressing truth. I feel that a winged Baptist, while such imagery is commonplace and centuries-old, risks distorting a proper expression of who he is.

Food for thought, friends.

#13 Vassil

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 08:12 PM

Hi Olga,
I agree about the winged figure of St John The Baptist. Unfortunately there are many examples especially from the time after the fall of Constantinople of icons painted with too much imagination.

The only human saint I've seen iconographically portrayed with wings is St John the Baptist - in the many thousands of icons I've seen over the years


I have to show you a very odd iconographical type of The Most Holy Virgin - with wings. It was quite popular in South-West Bulgaria (the town of Samokov and the region) some 150 years ago. The type is influenced by the West and definitely is not canonical. However some of these problematic icons are still in liturgical use. There is a great article about the winged Virgin but in Bulgarian. On Monday i will upload some pics.

Greetings!

#14 Vassil

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 09:47 AM

Here are two examples of the Winged Theotokos (19th C from Samokov, Bulgaria). Attached File  Крилата Богоро .jpg   565.62K   57 downloads

Attached Files



#15 Paul Cowan

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 01:47 PM

I notice neither of these has the virginal stars on her shoulders and forehead.

#16 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 02:10 PM

These icons could refer to the various hymns and prayers to the Theotokos: 'under thy wings we seek refuge'. Maybe this is why the icon itself actually says Pokrov (protection) of the Most holy Theotokos.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#17 Vassil

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 06:48 PM

I notice neither of these has the virginal stars on her shoulders and forehead.

Hm, I am cheking now in the book from which I took the images. The quality is poor and I am not sure but I think that on the first icon the stars are painted with gold and like the assist are hardly visible. As for the other image - it is too small :(

I will read again the article about the winged Theotokos from Samokov and next time I will make a short summary.




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