Overwhelming Evidence, or Why it’s a bad idea to argue art history with someone who actually studied it.

This is how it went:

Not long ago, I happened to see someone online complaining about how some authors of paranormal fiction have the nerve to describe angelic-type characters as having non-white wings (brightly colored or brown like a bird’s or whatever) when, in the opinion of that reviewer, white is the only color any myths or art or whatnot ever suggested angels can have for their wings.

So I left a comment that, as far as I ever noticed when studying art history, white seemed to be the exception rather than the rule. ‘You’re more likely to see an old painting of an angel with wing feathers like a pheasant’s than you are to see one with all-white wings.’

Of course, that led to the inevitable, ‘You’re wrong! I read more paranormal than you do [I don’t doubt it] so I know more than you do about what angels looked like in Midevil art, so I know that most people who write paranormal are Doing It Wrong.’

(Have I mentioned lately how much I hate it when someone spells medieval as midevil… and why I have such a big problem with it? It’s not only correct grammar than can save lives, kids.)

You’ll need to click on the image below to see it in anything approaching full size: it’s huge, so do not try this on your smartphone. It’s a composite I threw together of a few (dozen) angel images from medieval and Renaissance art, all of them showing colorful wings. There’s an Archangel Michael with the most fabulous rainbow feathers (and a Gabriel — I think — who makes Mike there look kinda drab), and several ladies with pheasant-brown wings, and a few that look distinctly like peacocks’, and some with plain green or blue or tan or red or even black (on cherub-types in some picture about the birth of the Virgin, of all things!)… You get the point. There are some with white plus a color, but none with entirely white. Not that I ever specialized in studying Christian art (ick! *shudder*), but as far as I can tell, the all-white wings on angels is an invention of the Victorian era (which, as you ought to know, is a couple centuries and change after the end of the Renaissance), or whenever someone decided that angels who beat up demons or wield flaming swords was just Not Appropriate, so they nerfed everything and made angels cute and pastel-colored and boring…

Images of medieval and Renaissance art depicting angels with non-white wings (which out to be enough to make a point of some kind about white NOT being ‘the way they always did it.’)

…And since I’m going on and on about this sort of art anyway, I’d like to address a mistake I saw repeatedly in how some of these pictures were labeled: If the guy fighting a dragon has wings, it’s the Archangel Michael; Saint George doesn’t have wings. Shouldn’t be that hard to figure out… (I still don’t know if, in the mythology these pictures belong to, saints outrank archangels, or if it’s the other way around. If anyone knows, please tell me. I kinda need this trivia-bit to prevent an argument… or at least redirect it, and Google searches have proven useless.)

Yes, I do have a lot of free time on my hands lately… 🙂 I’m a copyeditor; November is my month off, while so many writers are frantically typing the first drafts of their Very Small Novels. (The clone is getting close to completion of the first draft of his not-small novel, so I’d need to be ready for the first round of editing on that, preparing it for beta readers — volunteer now and avoid the rush! — even if I did have the usual work load from other editing jobs.)


About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have eight cats. I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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7 Responses to Overwhelming Evidence, or Why it’s a bad idea to argue art history with someone who actually studied it.

  1. M. Oniker says:

    Pretty much don’t argue anything when you have not studied it. Don’t argue it with someone who has, unless perhaps they flunked their courses. How hard was it to go online and find examples of angel wings? Yeesh. I like Supernatural’s angels. They’re such dicks. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. alicegristle says:

    And you didn’t even get to the flaming wheel part! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, if they’d said, ‘Angels in paranormal fiction must have all-white wings and look like [some sort of beautiful human], because all the medieval art and old myths/stories say so,’ then it could have gotten complicated, tracking down pictures for every type of non-humanoid angel. And then I’d have mentioned one of the characters in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, a cherubim who looks like a jumble of wings and eyes… And then I’d feel embarrassed for even knowing this stuff (which is unreasonable, I know, because I don’t feel embarrassed for knowing about ancient Greek or Chinese myths, or Russian fairy tales, or whatever).

      Liked by 1 person

      • alicegristle says:

        Madeleine L’Engle faintly rings a bell… Would her works be worth checking out, in your opinion?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Her “Time Quartet” novels are usually labeled as YA, due to the age of the main characters and there being no sex or cussing in the stories (and because one of ’em won the Newberry Award). However, I’ve never considered them the sort of stories that a reader will outgrow; if you like ’em when you’re a kid, you’ll like them as much or even better as an adult, when you have the matutiry to notice and understand the stuff that you overlooked during the first readthrough. (I didn’t understand everything in A Swiftly Tilting Planet when I read it as an eleven-year-old, but when I re-read it a few years later… Wow.) My twin — he’s forty-six years old, just like me 🙂 — re-read three of the four books in the Time Quartet (so named because the first book is the famous A Wrinkle in Time) a few months ago.

          I’ve read some of L’Engle’s other novels (Arm of the Starfish and <The Young Unicorns, among others), but I didn’t like them as much as the Time Quartet. Could have been because I was a young teen when I read those, and I just didn’t get the stories. Or because the sci-fi elements are much more subtle, and I didn’t want almost-sort-of SF; I wanted time travel and aliens and evil giant brains and stuff.

          I should mention that there are religious themes in L’Engle’s fiction, although not “preachy.” (I detest religious propaganda “cleverly disguised” as sci-fi or fantasy.) If you can handle stories by C. S. Lewis, for example, you probably wouldn’t even notice the Christian-ish themes in L’Engle’s novels. (And DO NOT watch that recent movie that’s supposedly based on A Wrinkle in Time — don’t watch ANY movie based on that novel, ’cause they always mess it up, nerf it, and generally make a cute little kids’ story out of something that’s supposed to be serious — because it is very much NOT the story that’s in the book.)


  3. Pingback: Overwhelming Evidence, or Why it’s a bad idea to argue art history with someone who actually studied it. — North of Andover – Goddamn Media

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