Let there be light

The figures of angels used to be an important part of the medieval artistic world. Their shape had been formed under the influence of biblical texts, theological opinions and documents right from the early stages of Christianity. The oldest sections of the Old Testament present angels as personifications of God’s revelation. In the late Jewish tradition a more precise teaching on angels as a „heaven’s army“, including the service in the heavenly kingdom, where angels have important functions, had been created. Their role is to invoke and praise God and constantly perform his will. The word angel itself clarifies their role as intermediaries between God and men, as God’s instruments in the God’s guidance of the world. The world angel comes from the Greek angelos, meaning a messenger and corresponds also to the Hebrew expression malak, which has the same meaning and appears in the Old Testament. The 5th century document by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite „Di Coelesti Hierarchia“ on the celestial hierarchy had a decisive impact on the formation of medieval ideas and belief in these creatures. This teaching laid the foundations of ideas on the courtly service that the angels perform in the heavenly kingdom. In these visions the angels had two duties – to praise and celebrate God and to provide a procession to his heavenly majesty, or perform the duties which, in earthly liturgy, were carried out by lower clergy. Such thoughts were spreading from the Byzantine court ceremonial and had an important role in the development of liturgical rituals. Angels with liturgical objects – candles, candlesticks, censers and aspersoria were depicted in European art as early as the 13th century. It was not an invention of the late Gothic, as is often claimed, however, it was in the 15th century that the depiction of angels carrying a candlestick had become a very popular motif.
Among the uniquely preserved examples of angels as light bearers in the artistic environment of the late Gothic in Spiš there is also a pair of statues that the museum has obtained into its collections. When the first statue of an angel, a light bearer, was purchased in 2012, we thought that it was a solo preserved specific object which could have originally had a pendant that, however, had not been preserved. Three years later (2015) an offer came to buy the second statue of an angel, a light bearer, and so it was possible to put together the pair of statues – candlesticks – which had originally been one unit. Similar works have rarely been preserved in the medieval Spiš art, although originally there must have been a large number of them in local churches.

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