Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Title: The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Artist: Luca Giordano

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 419 x 283 cm

Date: 1666

Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

From Revelation 12:7-9, “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” It has been said that the fall of the rebel angels is the greatest single theme of the Counter-Reformation. The theme allowed a church in conflict to present its propaganda regarding the struggle against heresy by using the theme of the struggling angel, also symbolizing the triumph of light over the rebellion of the powers of darkness.

Giordano sets the scene with relatively few figures, in which heaven and hell, the incense of the blessed and the brimstone of the damned are contrasted in an extremely confined space, creating an arc of tension within which the knight-like angel spreads his broad wings and wields his sword in a sweeping gesture of victory. Against a background of deep golden light, the archangel balances with an almost balletic movement on the heavy breast of Lucifer, entangled amidst a group of his servants, his angular and batlike wings cutting through the hazy sfumato of the hellfire. What appears at first glance to be so dramatic is not in fact the depiction of a struggle as such. Michael is not attacking the figures from hell with his sword, but is holding it aloft like a sign, as though his mere appearance were enough to cast Satan and his followers into eternal damnation.

Luca Giordano (18 October 1634 – 3 January 1705) was an Italian late Baroque painter and printmaker in etching. Born in Naples, Giordano was the son of Antonio Giordano, an undistinguished painter. At a precocious age, Giordano was apprenticed to Ribera on the recommendation of the viceroy of Naples.

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