What Do Angels Symbolize in Art: Understanding the Meanings Behind Angelic Imagery

Angels have always been a subject of fascination in art, from the classic Renaissance paintings to the more contemporary works of modern times. They are depicted in many different forms, whether as ethereal beings with wings or as humans with an otherworldly glow. But what do angels symbolize in art? This is a question that has puzzled many art enthusiasts, theologians, and historians for centuries.

Many different interpretations of angels have emerged throughout history in various cultures and religions. At their core, though, angels have come to represent divinity, purity, and hope. They are commonly seen as messengers of God, guardians, and protectors of humans. Throughout Christian art, they are often shown holding the instruments of the Passion or communicating with the Blessed Virgin Mary. These symbols not only serve to convey important theological messages but also evoke emotions such as comfort, awe, and inspiration in viewers.

In addition to religious meanings, angels also hold important symbolic value in secular art. They can represent qualities such as benevolence, beauty, and purity. They are often depicted as beautiful beings with wings, creating a sense of lightness and freedom. They can also represent a person’s individual inner voice or an idealized version of oneself. Whatever the interpretation, angels have captured the imaginations of artists and viewers alike for centuries and continue to hold a special place in the art world.

Biblical references to angels

Angels have been a popular subject in religious art for centuries, and many of the representations we see today are based on Biblical references to these divine beings.

In the Old Testament, angels were often portrayed as powerful messengers of God who carried out important tasks on his behalf. One of the most well-known examples is the story of the angel Gabriel, who appeared to Mary to let her know that she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.

The New Testament also has many references to angels, with some scholars estimating that there are over 300 mentions of these celestial beings in the Bible. In the book of Revelation, for example, angels are associated with important events such as the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls.

Biblical references to angels

  • Angels were often portrayed as messengers of God in the Old Testament
  • The angel Gabriel appears in the New Testament to inform Mary that she is about to have the son of God
  • There are over 300 mentions of angels in the Bible

Biblical references to angels

Some artists have used these Biblical references to create powerful images of angels that provoke a sense of awe and wonder in the viewer. For example, many religious paintings depict angels with wings, which is often seen as a symbol of their ability to fly between heaven and earth. This representation of angels can be traced back to the Old and New Testaments, where they are described as having wings.

In addition to their wings, angels are often shown wearing robes or other clothing that represents their divine status. Some artists have also incorporated other symbols into their depictions of angels, such as trumpets or swords, which represent their role as messengers of God and protectors of the faithful.

By drawing on these Biblical references, artists have been able to create stunning works of art that not only reflect the religious beliefs of their time but also capture the imagination of generations of viewers.

Biblical references to angels

The following table summarizes some of the key references to angels in the Old and New Testaments:

Reference Description
Genesis 28:12 Angels ascending and descending a ladder
Daniel 3:28 Angels deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the furnace
Matthew 2:13 Angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt
Mark 16:5-7 Angel tells the women at Jesus’ tomb that he has risen

These are just a few examples of the many references to angels in the Bible, which continue to inspire artists to this day.

Guardian Angels

One of the most popular representations of angels in art is as guardian angels. These holy beings are tasked with guiding and protecting individuals, especially during times of hardship and danger. Guardian angels are believed to offer spiritual guidance and support to those in need, helping them to overcome obstacles and make wise decisions.

In art, guardian angels are often depicted as winged figures hovering protectively over a person or group. They are sometimes shown holding a sword or other weapon, representing their willingness to defend their charge against any evil forces that may threaten them.

  • Guardian angels are considered particularly important in religious traditions that emphasize the importance of personal relationships with God or other spiritual powers.
  • Many people believe that they have a guardian angel who watches over them and provides guidance and comfort when needed.
  • In art, guardian angels are usually depicted as beautiful, peaceful figures who radiate a sense of calm and protection.

The idea of guardian angels has been present in religious traditions for centuries, and has been a popular subject for artists throughout history. From the Renaissance paintings of Raphael to the contemporary sculptures of Jeff Koons, artists have explored the concept of guardian angels in a variety of styles and mediums.

The representation of guardian angels in art also varies depending on cultural context. In Christian art, for example, guardian angels are often depicted as male figures with wings and halos. In Islamic art, on the other hand, angels are often portrayed without wings and are gender-neutral.

Christianity Islam
In Christianity, guardian angels are seen as divine messengers who are responsible for watching over and guiding human beings. In Islam, angels are believed to be messengers of God who carry out certain tasks in accordance with divine will.
According to Christian tradition, everyone has a guardian angel assigned to watch over them from birth until death. In Islam, angels are not assigned to individuals in the same way as in Christianity.

Regardless of cultural context, the concept of guardian angels remains an important one in art and in life. These spiritual beings offer a sense of comfort and protection to those in need, and their representations in art provide a powerful reminder of the role they play in our lives.


Archangels are considered to be some of the most powerful and important angels in the hierarchy. In art, they are depicted as warriors and guardians, often holding swords or other weapons to defend against evil forces. They are also associated with specific virtues and qualities, such as wisdom, healing, and courage. Here are some of the most well-known archangels and their symbols:

  • Michael: Often depicted wearing armor and carrying a sword, Michael is the patron saint of warriors and is often called upon for protection. His name means “who is like God,” and he is associated with power, courage, and righteousness.
  • Gabriel: Known as the messenger angel, Gabriel is often depicted with a trumpet or scroll, announcing important messages from God. He is associated with communication, intuition, and creativity.
  • Raphael: Often depicted holding a staff and a fish, Raphael is the patron saint of healing and is associated with compassion, guidance, and journeying. His name means “God has healed,” and he is often called upon for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

The Number 3

In many cultures, the number 3 holds a special significance, and this is also true in art that depicts angels. The number 3 is often used to represent the Holy Trinity, consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is also a symbol of completeness and perfection, and is associated with balance and harmony. In art, angels are often depicted in groups of three, representing the trinity or the balance and harmony of the universe.

Examples of Angels in Groups of Three Meaning
The Three Wise Men Symbolize the journey of the soul, and the three stages of spiritual development.
The Holy Trinity Symbolizes the unity and balance of the three aspects of God.
The Three Archangels Symbolize the protection and guidance of the three most powerful angels.

Using the number 3 in art that depicts angels can add a deeper meaning and symbolism to the piece, and can enhance the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the artwork.

Cherubim and Seraphim

In art, angels are often depicted as beings with wings and halos, representing their heavenly nature and divine role as messengers of God. Two specific types of angels commonly seen in religious art are the Cherubim and Seraphim.

  • Cherubim: Cherubim are often depicted with four wings and four faces, each face representing a different creature: a human, lion, ox, and eagle. This symbolism represents the different aspects of God’s creation and their divine connection to Him. Cherubim are also often portrayed as guardians, watching over sacred spaces or objects.
  • Seraphim: Seraphim are usually depicted with six wings, which they use to cover their faces and feet in the presence of God. They are also often shown with a fiery appearance, representing their intense and passionate devotion to God. Seraphim are believed to be the highest ranking angels, closest to God himself.

In addition to their physical characteristics, angels in religious art often carry symbolic objects such as trumpets or swords, representing their role as messengers or warriors of God. They are also often depicted in scenes of the Nativity or other important events in Christian history, such as the Annunciation or the Resurrection.

Overall, the depiction of angels in religious art serves as a reminder of the power and presence of God in our lives. Their divine nature and symbolic representations offer a glimpse into the complexity and beauty of the spiritual realm.

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between Cherubim and Seraphim:

Cherubim Seraphim
Four wings Six wings
Four faces (human, lion, ox, eagle) No specific facial features
Guardians Highest ranking angels, closest to God

Despite their differences in appearance and role, both Cherubim and Seraphim serve as powerful symbols of God’s presence and divine power in our lives.

Angelic Hierarchy

In art, angels have been portrayed as messengers of God, protectors, and guides for humans. However, the hierarchy of angels is also an important aspect of their symbolism in art.

  • First Hierarchy: These are the angels closest to God, and they are responsible for carrying out God’s will. They include Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones.
  • Second Hierarchy: These angels act as heavenly governors, overseeing the cosmos and the natural world. They include Dominions, Virtues, and Powers.
  • Third Hierarchy: These angels are closest to humanity, serving as messengers and guardians. They include Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.

Each hierarchy of angels has a specific role in the divine plan, and this is often reflected in artwork portraying them. For example, Seraphim are typically depicted as fiery beings with multiple wings, representing their closeness to God and their role as divine messengers. Cherubim are often shown as winged babies or young boys, symbolizing their purity and innocence. Thrones, on the other hand, are portrayed as regal figures, representing their role as judges and ultimate authorities in the divine plan.

Another interesting aspect of the angelic hierarchy is the concept of fallen angels. These are angels that rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. The most famous of these is Lucifer, or Satan, who is often depicted as a beautiful but dangerous figure in art.

Angel Hierarchy Angelic Beings
First Hierarchy Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
Second Hierarchy Dominions, Virtues, Powers
Third Hierarchy Principalities, Archangels, Angels

Understanding the hierarchy of angels can add depth and meaning to any artwork containing these celestial beings. The intricate details and symbolism of each hierarchy and each individual angel can further enhance one’s appreciation of the beauty and significance of art depicting angels.

Fallen Angels

Fallen angels have been a popular subject in art for centuries, and they are usually portrayed as symbolic representations of rebellion, struggle, and sin. The concept of fallen angels comes from the biblical story of Lucifer, who was cast out of heaven after his rebellion against God. In art, fallen angels are often depicted as dark, ominous figures, with twisted wings and horns, and a menacing expression on their face. These figures serve as a warning of the dangers of temptation and sinful behavior, as well as the consequences that come with it.

  • Biblical references: Fallen angels are mentioned several times throughout the Bible, including in the Book of Revelation, where they are described as a third of the angels who rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven.
  • Symbolism: Fallen angels are often used to symbolize rebellion, pride, and sin. They can also represent the dangers of temptation and the consequences of giving in to it.
  • Artistic representation: In art, fallen angels are depicted in various ways, including as dark, ominous figures with twisted wings and horns, or as beautiful, seductive creatures who lure humans into sinful behavior.

Fallen angels have also been the subject of many literary works, including John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy.” These works further explore the symbolism and meaning behind fallen angels, as well as the consequences of their actions. In many cases, fallen angels serve as cautionary tales, warning against the dangers of pride, rebellion, and sinful behavior.

But despite their negative connotations, fallen angels can also represent redemption and the possibility of forgiveness. In some artistic works, fallen angels are shown seeking redemption for their past actions, or helping humans overcome their own struggles and temptations. This represents the idea that even those who have fallen from grace can still find their way back to redemption.

Symbolism Artistic Representation Literary Works
Fallen angels symbolize rebellion, pride, and sin. They are depicted as dark, ominous figures with twisted wings and horns, or as beautiful, seductive creatures who lure humans into sinful behavior. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” explore the symbolism and meaning behind fallen angels.
Fallen angels also represent redemption and the possibility of forgiveness. In some works, they seek redemption for their past actions or help humans overcome their struggles and temptations. These works represent the idea that even those who have fallen from grace can still find their way back to redemption.

Fallen angels continue to be a popular subject in art and literature, with their symbolism and meaning remaining relevant today. Whether they represent the dangers of temptation or the possibility of redemption, fallen angels serve as powerful reminders of the struggles and choices we face in life.

Angels in Renaissance art

During the Renaissance period, angels were a popular subject in artwork, representing a profound spiritual presence, and an opportunity for artists to demonstrate their technical skill. These artistic depictions of angels were not just for decoration, but they often carried symbolic meanings that would have been familiar to the audiences of the time.

The Number 7:

The use of the number seven in Renaissance art was prevalent, especially when it came to the portrayal of angels. In Christian theology, the number seven represents perfection or completion and is associated with the seven days of creation in the book of Genesis. Seven was also considered an auspicious number because it was believed to have mystical properties.

  • One of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli’s “La Primavera,” features seven angels in the scene.
  • The Archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel are often shown with seven wings or surrounded by seven smaller angels.
  • Seven cherubs are depicted in Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s “Annunciation”

The use of seven angels was not just a technical showcase for the artists, but it also conveyed the idea of the perfect divine presence in the world. The seven angels were thought to bring blessings and protection, and their depiction in art served as a reminder of their presence and influence in daily life.

Angels in Baroque art

Baroque art is renowned for its ornate detail, vivid colors, and dramatic sense of motion. It was a period of great spiritual fervor and artistic renewal, and angels played a prominent role in the art of the time. The Baroque era saw a resurgence of interest in religious iconography, and angels were a popular subject among artists seeking to convey the divine majesty and mystery of the Catholic faith.

The Symbolism of Eight Angels

  • The number eight is often associated with new beginnings, regeneration, and renewal. In Christian tradition, eight is the number of Christ’s resurrection, as He rose from the dead on the eighth day.
  • Angels often appear in groups of eight in Baroque art, signifying the presence of divine grace and spiritual renewal.
  • The eight angels depicted in Baroque art are typically arranged in a circular composition, symbolizing unity and eternity.
  • The angels are shown in a state of dynamic movement, with flowing garments and windswept hair, conveying a sense of awe-inspiring power and majesty.
  • The eight angels are also associated with the eight-pointed star, a symbol of divinity and cosmic harmony. In Baroque art, the angels are often shown surrounded by a glowing halo of light and radiance, evoking the celestial realm.

The Role of Angels in Baroque Art

Angels played a vital role in Baroque art, serving as messengers of God’s grace, protectors of the faithful, and symbols of divine intervention. They were often depicted as guardians or guides, leading the viewer towards spiritual enlightenment and transcendence.

Baroque artists also frequently depicted angels in scenes of great drama and intensity, reflecting the turmoil of the era’s political and religious conflicts. Angels were shown battling demons, rescuing souls from purgatory, and comforting the afflicted.

One of the most famous examples of Baroque angelic imagery is Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” which depicts an angel piercing the heart of the Spanish saint with an arrow of divine love. The sculpture embodies the intense emotional and spiritual fervor of the Baroque era, and has become an iconic image of the period’s artistic achievement.

The Role of Angels in Baroque Architecture

Angels were not only prominent in Baroque painting and sculpture, but also played a significant role in the era’s architecture. Baroque churches and palaces were frequently adorned with elaborate angelic motifs, including soaring angelic statues, cherubs, and winged figures.

The most famous example of Baroque angelic architecture is the Trevi Fountain in Rome, which features a massive sculpture of an angel guiding a chariot drawn by seahorses. The fountain is a masterful example of Baroque design, with its intricate detail and dynamic composition evoking a sense of awe and wonder.

Symbolism Meaning
Wings Divine power and ability to move freely between heaven and earth
Halo Divine glory and radiance
Trumpet The announcement of divine messages and judgments
Sword Protector and avenger of God’s justice
Flame Divine presence and purification
Lilies Purity, grace, and virtue

Overall, angels played a vital role in the artistic and spiritual landscape of the Baroque era, embodying the era’s intense emotion and dynamic energy.

Angels in Gothic art

Gothic art is a style of art that emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages, specifically from the 12th to the 15th century. This period witnessed the flourishing of Gothic architecture, which was characterized by tall buildings with pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and elaborate stone carvings. Gothic art also included painting, sculpture, and stained glass. Angels were a popular subject in Gothic art and were depicted in different forms and styles.

The Number 9

The number 9 is a significant number in Gothic art, as it symbolizes the nine ranks of angels in the celestial hierarchy. According to Christian tradition, there are nine choirs of angels, each with its own level of importance and responsibility. The nine ranks of angels, in descending order of importance, are:

  • Seraphim
  • Cherubim
  • Thrones
  • Dominations
  • Virtues
  • Powers
  • Principalities
  • Archangels
  • Angels

Each choir of angels was believed to perform a specific function in the spiritual realm, and their appearances in art varied accordingly. For instance, Seraphim were usually depicted with six wings, while Cherubim had four faces and four wings. Thrones were often shown as wheels with eyes, representing their position as the support of God’s throne.

Angels in Contemporary Art

Contemporary art has taken the symbolism of angels to a new level, using them in a multitude of ways to convey different meanings and emotions. Here, we will explore some of the ways angels are portrayed in contemporary art.

  • As Guardians: In contemporary art, angels are often depicted as guardians, looking over individuals or entire communities, providing protection and guidance.
  • As Messengers: Angels are also portrayed as messengers, delivering important news or bringing messages from the divine to humanity.
  • As Symbol of Hope: Many contemporary artists use angels to embody hope and inspiration, serving as a positive force in an increasingly uncertain world.

Some contemporary artists also focus on the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of angels, exploring their role in the universe and their relationship to humanity.

One example of this is artist Damien Hirst’s installation titled “The Virgin Mother,” which features a seven-meter-tall sculpture of a human body with the head of a baby boy and wings of a dove. This piece is meant to symbolize the Christian belief in the Immaculate Conception, where the Virgin Mary conceives through the Holy Spirit, giving birth to Jesus. The piece is also suggestive of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, who was revered as a mother and the protector of the sun god, Horus.

Another example is contemporary artist Kenji Yanobe, who created a sculpture titled “Sun Child,” which presents an angel-like figure in a space suit. The sculpture is meant to represent the optimistic view of modernism and the technologically advanced future, while also hinting at the possible dangers of nuclear and environmental disasters.

Artist Artwork Meaning
Damien Hirst The Virgin Mother Christian belief of Immaculate Conception and ancient Egyptian goddess Isis
Kenji Yanobe Sun Child Optimistic view of modernism and technological advancement, while hinting at nuclear and environmental disasters

Contemporary art has brought new dimensions to the symbolism of angels, using their timeless image to explore complex ideas and to evoke a range of emotions in viewers.

What Do Angels Symbolize in Art: FAQs

1. What is the symbolism behind angels in art?

Angels in art are often seen as spiritual beings representing purity, innocence, and divine intervention. They are often used to represent the presence of God in both religious and secular contexts.

2. What do angel wings symbolize in art?

Angel wings in art are often symbolic of spiritual freedom, protection, and guidance. They are also used to represent the journey of the soul and the ascension to heaven.

3. What do cherubs symbolize in art?

Cherubs, often depicted as chubby, winged infants, are symbolically associated with love, innocence, and devotion. They are often seen in religious art, particularly in Christian iconography.

4. Why are angels often depicted in white robes in art?

White is commonly associated with purity and innocence, so angels in white garments represent these qualities. It is also thought to symbolize the divine light of heaven.

5. What do guardian angels symbolize in art?

Guardian angels are often depicted in art as protectors and guides. They are believed to intervene on behalf of individuals and to offer spiritual guidance and support.

6. What is the significance of the halo around an angel’s head in art?

The halo, a ring of light around an angel’s head, represents divine light and holiness. It is often used to identify saints and to distinguish holy figures from ordinary mortals.

7. Why are angels depicted in different genders in art?

Although angels are often perceived as genderless beings, they are frequently portrayed as either male or female. This is because gender is an important aspect of how we relate to and understand the divine. Male angels are often associated with strength and protection, while female angels represent compassion and nurturing.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading our article about what angels symbolize in art. We hope that you have learned something new and interesting about this fascinating topic. If you enjoyed this piece, please stay tuned for more informative and entertaining content!