A beautiful new exhibition at St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow will explore angels and their different portrayal in sacred writings, customs and traditions, art and popular culture across the world and across time. Heavenly Creatures: Angels in Faith, History and Popular Culture will open early October 2015 and run until 17 April 2016.
Paintings, sculpture, stained-glass, photographs and other objects from Glasgow Museums Collection will encourage audiences to discover the many ways angels are represented all around us – in art, stories, songs, film and television. The display will invite visitors to question why angels continue to fascinate people of different religions and none, in different countries and throughout time. It will probe what makes them special, what they do and what they look like. There is an accompanying programme of talks, events and films for adults and families*.
Professor of Literature and Theology, University of Glasgow, The Revd Professor David Jasper, said: “This beautiful exhibition brings home how present angels still are to us in a world in which religion might seem to be waning. As ancient as the dawn of history, angels come to us here in art, music and literature, in images from ancient myth and story as well as contemporary film and history. Like the Angel of Mons, shown in the exhibition, angels reach out to us from the pages of fiction and become real. After seeing this exhibition who can truly say that they do not 'exist'?"
Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor Archie Graham, said: “When you stop and look angels are all around us. They are present in some of our most important and celebrated traditions and in many aspects of popular culture. I think it’s fitting St Mungo’s host an exhibition exploring why they fascinate many and continue to captivate people throughout the ages and across the globe.
“I believe this beautiful exhibition will encourage new audiences to visit the museum. I am confident they will enjoy learning about some of the striking objects that feature from around the world and across the centuries and very much hope they will share their experiences with us.”
Harry Dunlop, the exhibition curator, adds: “This exhibition is the result of different conversations about angels with people of faith and of none. Some themes were chosen as a direct consequence of the questions people asked about angels, including what do angels look like and why are still so popular today. I hope visitors will bring their own interpretations and experiences or empathise with the human stories told through the display.”
Heavenly Creatures: Angels in Faith, History and Popular Culture features traditional and contemporary illustrations of angels. They are described quite differently by those faiths that allow their representation. This goes some way to explaining the variance in the way people think about angels, which is often influenced by the images they are familiar with.
In the past angels were often illustrated as white Europeans, but increasingly they are shown as coming from different cultures. This is explored by juxtaposing Sir Edward Burne-Jones The Angel, 1881, which depicts a typical 19th century beautiful winged angel, alongside Zimbabwean sculptor Joseph Ndandarika’s Chapungo Man, c1980s, which is half man half bird, yet shares many similar attributes as angels.
The display goes on to consider angels of light and darkness, representing good and evil. A copy of an original decorative silver shield by Leonard Morel-Ladeuil has scenes based on the poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. It depicts the war in heaven and at its centre is the good Archangel Michael defeating Lucifer, the leader of the rebel angels.
In many religious texts, including the Hebrew bible, Christian gospels and Holy Quran, angels are sent by God to reveal messages to his people. The belief in angels as messengers between heaven and earth is explored through beautiful, detailed stained glass, with more modern messengers considered in small sculptures of the Angel Moroni and the Angel of Portugal.
Many people believe angels have power to protect and guard individuals while on earth and when they have passed away. The exhibition goes on to reflect upon the concept of angels as guardians, healers and guides. It looks at objects, like memorial cards given to comfort families who had lost children and a figure of St Michael protecting an American police officer, gifts which became popular in America after the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001. These are complemented by postcards, prints and paintings, including Gaspare Diziani’s Hagar and the Angel from the mid 1700’s, which shows an angel saving the biblical figure Hagar and her child Ishmael from dying of thirst by revealing a pool of water.
The penultimate section invites visitors to muse the permeation of angels in western society. Entitled Angels all around us, it explores the many ways in which these powerful symbols continue to enthral people through traditions, literature, film, television and music.
Angels adorn the top of countless Christmas trees and are represented in all sorts of festive decorations and celebrations including nativity scenes and plays. For many they represent the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. For others, in the form of the more secular cupids, they are exchanged as a token of friendship, hope or love, often on Valentine’s Day. One of the more unusual objects in the exhibition is a horse vertebrae carved into the image of an angel. It is believed the bone came from a horse ridden by Glasgow born Sir John Moore who was killed at the Battle of Corunna in 1809 and was engraved as a souvenir and given as a gift.
Angels have also inspired some of the most famous music, films and TV series in popular culture. Robbie Williams released the enduringly popular anthem Angels in 1997, written about his aunt and uncle. In 2005 it was voted the best song of the past 25 years of British music by the public at the BRIT awards and remains one of the most requested songs at funerals today. Others may be more familiar with Clarence Odbody, the trainee angel who helped George Bailey appreciate his life in the 1946 hit Christmas fantasy movie It’s a Wonderful Life or even the Weeping Angels from sci-fi series Dr Who. The exhibition features both a commemorative figure of Clarence and one of the dreaded screaming angels.
Before leaving visitors to Heavenly Creatures will be able to contribute their own thoughts about angels and what they mean to them on a personal basis at You’re an Angel. Not everyone believes in angels, but people love and often guide and protect others as they move through life. People can respond to the exhibition and share their experiences and beliefs in angels or otherwise.
An accompanying programme of free talks, events and workshops for all ages will complement the exhibition. On Sunday 4 October a panel of academics from Glasgow University will discuss themes and issues relating to a number of world religions, while little ones can create an imaginative 2D angel embellished with sparkling foils and decorative collage. Other events will take place throughout the month culminating with a twilight tour of the Necropolis on 30 October, with Friends of Glasgow Necropolis showing off their wonderful angels and telling intriguing stories about the stones. The programme will continue throughout the entire exhibition run.
The award-winning St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, named after Glasgow's patron saint, is home to inspiring displays of artefacts and stunning works of art exploring the importance of religion in peoples’ lives across the world and across time.
Heavenly Creatures: Angels in Faith, History and Popular Culture is on display at St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art until Sunday 17th April 2016. It is free to enter. For more information visit www.glasgowmuseums.com