Angels 6: Paradise stands in the shadow of swords

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The Guardian of Paradise by Franz Stuck (1889).

We’ll let Coil have the final word on the angel theme, the post title being taken from their Cathedral In Flames. Those words recognise—as does the painting above—that the Christian concept of Heaven is of a gated community guarded by warriors to keep the undesirable at bay.

Symbolist painter Franz Stuck was (as far as we know) robustly heterosexual but his angel isn’t far removed from the work of contemporary photographers like Anthony Gayton who specialise in teasing out the erotic undercurrents in this kind of imagery. Which brings us full circle, seeing as we started with Caravaggio and his distinct brand of religious subversion. The irony is that some of the more vocal elements of Christianity can’t help subverting themselves or their own messages, as John Patterson notes in his Guardian piece today, alluding not only to the Ted Haggard debacle but also to Haggard’s favourite artist, Thomas Blackshear, both of whom were discussed here in November. Patterson writes that the recent brand of bigoted fervour that’s swept America seems to have abated, or at least retreated, after threatening to become a mainstream force. Europe often seems a haven of healthy heathen sanity by comparison, a part of the undesirable world being kept outside the American Paradise. St. Peter now demands retinal scans, fingerprints and a biometric passport. Continual rumbles from Pope Maledict and his closeted cardinals are an increasing irrelevance, the background static of a dying regime. Paradise may be guarded by attractive angels but we can only look and never touch. As Patterson says, the devil has all the best tunes. And the best books and movies and games. And sex and fun. I know which side of the fence I’d rather be on.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The men with swords archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Gay for God

Angels 4: Fallen angels

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The Treasures of Satan by Jean Delville (1894).

Some more favourite paintings today. Jean Delville produced a splendidly strange portrayal of Satan as an undersea monarch lording it over a sprawl of intoxicated, naked figures. When Savoy Books decided to put together the definitive version of David Lindsay’s equally strange fantasy novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, I felt this was the only painting adequate to the task of filling out the cover. That was in 2002; a year later Gollancz used the same painting on the cover of their Fantasy Masterworks paperback edition of the book. Lindsay’s book has been plagued by bad cover art for years so we managed to raise the bar for future editions. Delville was one of the great painters of the Symbolist school, all his work is worth looking at.

There are numerous representations of Lucifer but Franz Stuck’s is especially striking and apparently caused viewers to cross themselves before it when it was first exhibited.

Gustave Doré’s tumbling figure is from his illustrated edition of Paradise Lost, a book full of armour-clad, spiky-winged angels. Some of those wings have even found their way into my work via the miracle of Photoshop.

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Lucifer by Franz Stuck (1890).

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Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Thomas Häfner, 1928–1985