I always imagined angel’s wings as white, like the wings of a swan, or perhaps gold like the seraphim atop the Ark of the Covenant. I photographed this detail of an angel’s wings in the National Gallery in London a few months ago. I was struck by the bold use of colour; my wife immediately saw parallels with Missoni knitwear. A delight! I was also reminded of something the writer and critic John Berger said about medieval painting. Far from expressing the drabness one might expect of what we call “The Dark Ages”, there’s an inner luminosity in medieval painting which is quite startling when you encounter it, when standing before a panel painted six hundred years ago. Where Renaissance and Reformation painting explored the outward effects of light on the subject, the subject of medieval art emanates light from within itself. The wings of this angel challenge our notions of a sterile white heaven with achromatic beings. The artist imagined a heaven populated by exquisitely beautiful beings: the angels depicted wear garments of iridescent salmon, sky-blue and emerald green with gold brocade. 

Do angels exist? Is there heaven? These are matters of faith. But the association of the Divine with beauty is certainly one I agree with, whoever wins the day in the often ugly disagreements between believers and non-believers.

Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. – KAFKA

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