Thursday, June 30, 2011


Title: The Archangel St Michael
Artist: Jaume Huguet
Medium: Tempera, stucco reliefs and gold leaf on wood
Size: 213 x 136 cm
Date: c. 1455-1460
Location: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.


Saint Michael the Archangel (Hebrew “who is like God" mi-ke-El) is an archangel in Jewish, and Islamic tradition, and has been part of Christian teachings since the earliest times. Only Michael is called an archangel in the Bible. He is viewed as the field commander of the Army of God. He is mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Jude, and the Book of Revelation, in which he leads God's armies against Satan's forces during his uprising. The original meaning of the name Michael gave rise to the Latin phrase ‘Quis ut Deus?’ which can be seen on many artistic portrayals when he rhetorically and scornfully asks ‘Who is like God?’ as he defeats Satan. The Prayer to Saint Michael is part of the Roman Catholic Ritual and can be used as part of the Roman Catholic practice of exorcism. His other roles include saving souls at the hour of death, weighing souls on Judgment Day and acting as Guardian of the Church.

The painting belongs to the central compartment of the altarpiece of Saint Michael of the Retailers. The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya has five more compartments from the same work. The altarpiece comes from the chapel of the Shopkeepers' and Retailer's guild, in the church of Santa Maria del Pi, Barcelona. The other panels include such well known depictions of St. Michael as ‘Apparition of Saint Michael at the Castle of Sant'Angelo’, and ‘Saint Michael Vanquishes the Antichrist’. In this portrait, Huguet style combines Gothic traditions (compressed space and generous use of gilding) with a certain Flemish realism in the depiction of the figures.

Jaume Huguet (1412 - 1492) was a Catalan painter, who is considered to represent the golden age of Catalan Gothic painting. Originally from Valls, he moved to Tarragona to stay with his uncle Pere Huguet, who was also a painter. When they moved to Barcelona he was exposed to modern trends of the time. Between 1440 and 1445 he worked in Zaragoza and later in Tarragona, where he was influenced by the Flemish style of Luis Dalmau. His studio produced many sumptuous composite altarpieces of the type that became typical in Spanish art and his work exercised a wide influence on the painting of Catalonia and Aragón.

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