Caravaggio’s Angels Breaking the Fourth Wall


Among the hallmark darkness of Caravaggio’s paintings, the angels seem to emerge both like bright celestial figures and ordinary human bodies, the lines of their physiques mirroring those of the painter’s models – who could be nothing else, after all, than people. (Right?) Not for Caravaggio’s angels with their tranquil poses - stagnant and unassuming – or at least not for those of them who are the most memorable. They are not petite and barely-human, nor ones to reflect the scriptural descriptions of themselves – which is no surprise. The depictions of angels having been governed rather by a principle of aesthetics and collective imaginings for as long as they existed.

My fascination with angels has been going strong for years. With the way they are is also what they are most certainly not – their infinite depictions in art and their eternal second life as a cheap metaphor. (“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” An angelological nightmare.) Coming together from a few interests – or obsessions, or loves, or whatever you want to call them – is always among the things that is most charming in a way that is spell-casting, not simply pleasant.

Here, the concept of angels collided with Caravaggio - his fondness and talent for them, and with the idea of disruption, their breaking out of the dullness of the grid I had assigned to myself. The angels don’t make much of the boundaries of their own place on the piece of paper they happen to occupy.

I started sketching these particular angels as a way of getting myself out of one of those ruts where everything you draw seems unsatisfactory to the point of nausea – and, incidentally, taken out of that rut I was, or snatched out of it, rather, which, since catalysed by angels, seemed – well – fairly celestial.

The angels in the illustration are based on those from three separate works of Caravaggio: Rest on the Flight into Egypt, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, and Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy.