Bible Paintings of Angels_banner

 Home                                                  What are angels?                                             Bible study activities

Find out more

The Angel announces the Resurrection on Easter Morning, He Qi

All about Angels  

The angel speaks to Joseph in a dream

Flight to Egypt

The Annunciation, Gabriel Rossetti


The Angel's announcement to the shepherds, Leon Francois Comer, detail

Shepherds and angels

Ruth and Naomi, by Sandy Freckleton Gagan, detail

Ruth, Naomi & Boaz

'Esther', sometimes listed as 'Vashti', by Edwin Long

Beautiful Esther

Moses, by Michelangelo

Moses saved by Miriam

Rebecca decieves Isaac, Govert Flinck, detail of the painting

Rebecca & Isaac: a love story

'The Expulsion of Hagar', Adrien van der Werfft, detail

The slave girl Hagar & Sarah


On this page

Flight to Egypt

Ecstacy of St Teresa, Bernini

Madonna of the Rocks
Da Vinci

John Collier

Leon Comerre
L'annonce aux bergers

Da Vinci, Annunciation, detail of the Angel

The Angel of Dresden

Petrus Christus

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Joshua Reynolds,
Heads of Angels

William Waterhouse

The Archangel Leaving the Family of Tobias, Rembrandt van Rijn

Angels Singing and Playing, Hubert and Jan Van Eyck 

Annunciation, Fra Angelico

Madonna with angels
Fra Angelico

Shepherds' Adoration
Hugo van der Goes

Fall of the Rebel Angels
Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Angel Musicians
Hans Memling

Archangel Gabriel
Gerard David



     Bible Paintings of Angels


Giotto, detail of an angel in a painting of the Madonna and Child

This lush angel is only a small detail in a painting of the Madonna and Child in the church of San Georgio alla Costa in Florence. You hardly notice it behind the much larger figure of Mary. It's astonishing then that Giotto has lavished so much care on this beautiful face. Every strand of curling hair, every shadow on the face, shows Giott's comsummate skill.


Angels venerating the Madonna, Giotto

Angels venerating the Madonna, Giotto

Notice the calm on the face of the upper angel, and the fixed gaze of the second face. Both of these beautiful creatures radiate devotion to the Madonna.


John Collier, The Annunciation

John Collier, painting of the Annunciation with the Angel Gabriel and Mary

And now for something completely different. In this extraordinary modern painting, Mary is a suburban schoolgirl who finds herself in an improbable situation. In her sports shoes and smock, she is greeted by a reverent Archangel Gabriel. He knows who she is and what she will be, even if she does not.
The angel does not seem to have spoken yet. Only its rapt gaze at the lilies, symbols of virginity, give the viewer a clue that something momentous is about to happen. The artist, John Collier, jolts the viewer by making the scene immediate, now, not thousands of years ago. A Virgin with untied shoelaces and scraped-back hair? Surely not. Yet the painting has more dynamism than the work of many, more traditional, artists.

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 1:26-38

Caravaggio, Rest on the flight into Egypt

Rest on the flight into Egypt, Caravaggio painting

What a daredevil Caravaggio was. Talk about living on the edge. You can easily see why he shocked people. The Christian churches in Europe were at the zenith of their power, but Caravaggio went ahead and painted a Madonna dressed in red (the colour associated with loose-living women) and slumped over in exhausted sleep (the Madonna was usually serene and goddess-like, needing no food or sleep).
And what about Caravaggio's Joseph, patiently holding sheets of music for a violin-playing angel? Where did that come from? Or an angel with the grey-black and slightly sinister wings of an eagle? But what an angel! Its gold-hued flesh and the loose cloth tied around its body are radiant with glowing light. The sheen of its wings catches the dying light. This really is a heavenly creature.

Bible Reference: Matthew 2:13-15

Bernini, The Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila

 Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, Rome, marble sculpture with angel and reclining figure of St Teresa

Everyone always notices the open mouth and languid body of St Teresa - her ecstasy looks decidedly sexual. The truth is that Bernini had such skill, such originality and verve that he threw away the idea of mere representation and tried instead for something more: a way of expressing different levels of the divine, the mystical and the earthly.
This he does in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The saint's body seems to float in space, having lost its earthly weight. She is transported into another physical and emotional realm, the world of the Divine. Look at the angel - no solemn figure here. A mischievous smile lights up his face as he prepares to plunge the arrow into her heart. 

Leonardo da Vinci, detail from Madonna of the Rocks

Leonardo da Vinci, detail from Madonna of the Rocks showing the angel guarding Mary and the child Jesus

The sweetness of this face, the calm beauty, almost outshines the main subject of the paintings, which is of course the Madonna. A light shines onto the face from above - God's light. This face has never known sin or grief. The angel gently supports the figure of Jesus, who raises his hand to bless the other child in the painting, the infant John the Baptist. Surely this is one of the most serene and beautiful faces ever painted.

Leon Francois Comerre, L'annonce aux bergers, 1875

Painting: L'annonce aux bergers, Leon Francois Comerre, 1875

The shepherds are bathed in a luminous light from the angel, so much so that one of them tries to shield his eyes from the glare. He has recognised that this creature is from the realm of the Divine, and shields his eyes accordingly. The angel hovers above them, suspended, an arm raised either in greeting or command. One man has fainted outright, as well he might. A rather scruffy mountain dog seems undecided whether to attack or retreat. Perhaps the most arresting aspect of this painting is the contrast between the black night sky and the scruffy shepherds, and the luminous light of the angel. The Light of the World has been born.

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 2:8-20

The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, detail of the Angel

The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, detail of the Angel

Look at the glorious symmetry of this painting. It echoes the Divine Symmetry of the universe. The Angel Gabriel in this painting of the Annunciation is so beautiful, so commanding even though assuming a respectful position, that the figure of Mary is almost secondary. Somehow da Vinci is able to convince the viewer that this is the way it should be, and is, since Gabriel is a messenger from God and therefore in a sense represents God. Respectful and bowing, yes, but also dominating.

Bible painting of the Annunciation, by Leonardo da Vinci      Click on image to enlarge

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 1:26-38

The Angel of Dresden

The Angel of Dresden, photograph of a statue looking out over the German city of Dresden after it had been bombed in 1945

This statue, called the Angel of Dresden, may or may not have been originally intended as an angel on the roof of a church in the German city of Dresden, but it certainly packed a punch following the horrific bombing of Dresden in February, 1945. The sad face, the outstretched hands seem to be asking 'Why?' - an unanswerable question in the aftermath of war.
The statue was probably relatively unnoticed before the war, just another statue on another church in Europe. But since the bombing and the publication of the inspired photograph above, this angel has become an icon of the waste and futility of war.

Petrus Christus, The Annunciation

Petrus Christus, The Annunciation with the Angel Gabriel

Petrus Christus' paintings are at once sumptuous and ordinary: extraordinary events in an everyday setting, something for which Dutch painters were famous. The room in which the Virgin sits is spotlessly clean, scrupulously neat, full of fresh air, and yet simple - very Northern European. Notice in particular the angel's wings, splendid as a Bird of Paradise from the exotic jungle of New Guinea - very un-Northern European. In contrast, the tiny dove representing the Holy Spirit hovering above Mary, is pure white. 
Petrus Christus settled in the city of Bruges in 1444 and purchased his freedom of that city, becoming a master in the Guild of St Luke. He may have been a pupil of Jan van Eyck. He was certainly influenced by that artist. Some studio properties, a purse and a carpet, appear in pictures by the Van Eyck brothers, and also occur in the paintings of Christus. This means Christus either painted in their studio or else bought these objects, or at least colored sketches of them, after Jan van Eyck's death. 

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 1:26-38

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898

Mary and the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Contrast this with the painting by Petrus Christus above. Same subject, same positioning of figures, same story - but completely different presentation. Does this tell us something about the differences between the 15th and 19th centuries? There are differences in taste certainly, but also differences in attitudes and images of the divine. Tanner breaks away from the traditional picture of a winged creature, and presents the Angel as light - and therefore as Revelation.
It is a more sophisticated idea than the tangible 15th century angel painted by Petrus Christus with such perfect exactitude. But it is hard to come to grips with an intangible idea, and many people have given up the struggle. Tanner invites the viewer to ask what it was that Mary saw and experienced. If it was an angel, what is that exactly? A compelling idea? A dream? A moment of blinding clarity? The happy problem for the viewer who is asked to think, and think deeply.

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 1:26-38

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Heads of Angels, 1786 

Heads of Angels by Sir Joshua Reynolds

The inspiration for these cherubic heads was a little girl, Frances Isabella, daughter of Lord William Gordon. The painting is simple in subject, and complex in technique. Reynolds was fond of painting children, but perhaps not so fond of the children themselves. His small models often complained of feeling tired, but their complaints went unheard - in both senses of the word, for Sir Joshua was not only absorbed in his work, but also very deaf. He had no children of his own, a good thing perhaps. 

The Annunciation, by William Waterhouse, 1914

Painting of the Angel Gabriel and Mary, by William Waterhouse

The composition in Waterhouse's 'Annunciation' is spatially balanced, something you hardly notice because of the brilliant coloring. Mary is in blue, her traditional color - but what a magnificent blue, quite unlike the insipid blue of Victorian-era statues of Mary. Everything about the picture is feminine - the flowers, the graceful gestures of both figures, the mauves, pinks and blues.
The angel offers white flowers - perpetual virginity - to the young woman. She seems at a loss, perhaps guessing the cost of accepting those flowers. Poor girl, what a choice. It says something about her character that the Gospels contain no mention of any hesitation at that crucial moment. 'Let it be done' she says, and the world changes forever.

Bible Reference: Luke 1:26-38

The Archangel Leaving the Family of Tobias, Rembrandt van Rijn 

The Archangel leaving the family of Tobias, Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt never tried to make his subjects beautiful, but they often have a luminous quality, as if an inner light shines out of the uninspiring exterior. His figures are unheroic even if, as in this case, one of them is the Archangel Raphael. And what wonderful irreverence: one can see the soles of the angel's feet (suitably clean) and almost up his robe - the Archangel, mission accomplished, is eager to return to God. And is there any other religious painting that includes such a scruffy dog? On the other hand, this is the only dog mentioned in the Bible who seems to have been a pet, for it follows Tobias faithfully on his long journey. 
See more at Dogs in the Bible.

Bible Reference: Book of Tobit 12:20. The Book of Tobit tells the adventures and misadventures of a pious Israelite and his family. Tobit does not deserve the intense suffering he experiences. Nor does his young relative Sarah. The Book of Tobit offers an explanation for unjust suffering.

'Angels Singing and Playing', Hubert and Jan Van Eyck 

'Angels Singing and Playing', painting by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck 

These two pictures, jointly painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, are panels of the great altarpiece from the cathedral of St Bavon at Ghent. Hubert, the elder by about twenty years, is supposed to be responsible for the planning and arrangement of the whole work and the painting of most of it, while Jan completed the work after his brother died.
The main difference between the two men seems to have been that the older brother was a religious ascetic and rather more restrained. The panel showing the singing angels in their sumptuous robes is said to be by Jan, and the other, that concentrates rather more on the musical instrument, by Hubert. Jan's angels are a little more ordinary in countenance, and they seem to be straining with concentration. Hubert's orchestra is more aristocratic, and seemingly more confident. Notice that the organ has no keyboard as we know it; each key protrudes separately from the instrument

The Golden Stairs, by Edward Burne-Jones

The Golden Stairs, paintings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

Angels or not? There has been a lot of debate about what exactly this painting represents. The creatures, whatever they are, are beautiful in an unearthly way; they carry musical instruments similar to those in paintings of the Heavenly Choirs of angel; the Golden Stairs on which they descend seem to lead from Heaven to Earth, and the dove visible through the skylight may represent the Holy Spirit.
But is this enough to identify them as angels, particularly when the artist, Burne-Jones, seems to leave the subject matter deliberately ambiguous? Angels should not have any features that identify them as male or female, yet the figures in this painting are clearly female. What do you think?

Angel standing at the foot of the enthroned Madonna and Child
Giotto, Florence

Madonna with angels, by Fra Angelico, Fiesole Church, San Domenico

Painting of the Madonna with angels, by Fra Angelico


The Annunciation, Fra Angelico

Famous painting of the Annunciation, by Fra Angelico

Fra (Brother) Angelico had two nicknames: the Angelic, and the Blessed; the names give us some indication of his character. His work is marked by its directness and depth of religious feeling. The attitudes of the figures are arranged with a simple formality.
The figures themselves and their costumes are sumptuous - especially in the first of the two paintings here. This is Mary as Queen of Heaven, a long way from the simple peasant girl in Galilee who answered God's call. The angels themselves are heavenly creatures with gold leaf halos and delicate, colorful wings. Notice the foreshortening and use of perspective in 'The Annunciation' - an extraordinary achievement for its day. The simplicity of the background lends a certain stillness and gravitas to the event being shown.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Hugo van der Goes

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Hugo van der Goes

This was painted during the middle years of the 15th century, when the rules of perspective were imperfectly understood; the panel seems to be painted in three parts and united by the addition of details such as the worshipping angels in the foreground, and the flying angels near the top. Notice the vivid way in which the faces of the shepherds are painted.
The picture is over five hundred years old, and yet the paint is so cunningly applied that every face and fold of cloth seems forcible and immediate. Notice the tiny, unnecessary details: a summer clog; a shepherd carrying what looks like bagpipes and hurrying to catch up with the others; two beautifully dressed people leaning on a gate leading out of the inn yard (they probably paid for the painting to be done); lovely flowers put there for the sheer joy of painting them. But notice too that most of the angels, if not all, are dressed in ecclesiastical robes of one sort or another. What message are we supposed to get from this detail?
Incidentally, Hugo van der Goes could have done some fine name-dropping. The picture above was done for a Florentine merchant who was the agent of the Medici family; his name was Tommaso Portinary, and his ancestor had been father to Dante's Beatrice.

Bible Reference: Gospel of Luke 2:8-20

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

These are angels of an entirely different kind - fighting angels, warriors of the sky. They are led by Michael, the Angel of God, who defended Israel when it was in danger. In this painting Michael leads the Good Angels against Lucifer, the Fallen Angel who refuses to submit to God's authority. There is a tremendous battle between Good and Evil, and Michael and his angels triumph. Bruegel captures the chaos and confusion of battle, and some of the macabre manifestations of Evil.

Angel Musicians, Hans Memling, 1480's

Angel Musicians playing various medieval musical instruments, painting by Hans Memling

Poor Memling had the rather dubious honor of being the largest tax-payer in Bruges in 1480. We surmise from this that he was very successful. He painted calm, beautiful pictures, full of the restrained devotion of the later Middle Ages. In this one, a detail from a larger painting of Christ surrounded by angels, a group of angel-musicians create the sound of heavenly choirs. Unfortunately they don't look very happy about it, and they have decidely weird wings, closer to a butterfly's than a bird's. Notice the musical instruments, quite different from a modern orchestra.

The Archangel Gabriel from the Cervara Altarpiece, by Gerard David

Famous painting of the Archangel Gabriel from the Cervara Altarpiece, by Gerard David

Gerard David was the last great master of Bruges, the headquarters of Dutch art at the time. This painting has all the hallmarks of his work, especially the technique of placing the divine and ethereal in a homely setting, and giving the scene, overall, an otherworldly feeling. The subject matter encourages the viewer to overlook the superb technique behind it all. The angel is aloof but urgent. Is that hand held up in a blessing, or to catch and hold the Virgin's attention? Look at that superb cloak of gleaming silk. The drapery falls in rather severe folds - realistic but at the same time not quite real.

Bible Reference: Luke 1:26-38

Distraught angels at the burial of Jesus, Giotto


Many other paintings show angels present at the death or burial of Jesus, but none that I know of show them in such anguish, such abandoned grief. See the full image below.

Giotto, the Deposition of Jesus

 The Archangel Michael with spear and orb, 14th century, Byzantine

The Byzantine attitude to icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints was immensely sophisticated. The artist could not simply paint what he wanted. He had to take into consideration a whole range of influences including metaphysics, concern with the physical properties of light and colour, theology and symbolism.


Custom Search

                Paintings of Angels in the Bible, modern and medieval, by some of the world's greatest painters


  Home                                     FAQs                                        About the Author
Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher