Betsy Porter

Angels and archangels, powerful and mysterious spiritual forces in attendance on God, are known in many cultures and religions. Their youthful faces nevertheless betray experience and wisdom, for they are as old as the universe. Light streams from their wings.

Archangels are depicted as handsome beardless young men, gorgeously arrayed as Byzantine princes. Their light blue hair bands, ending in floating ribbons or even white lightning, function as “antennae” to instantly pick up instructions from God. The transparent globe and slender staff are emblems of their angelic powers and their affiliation with the Divine.

Most familiar are four archangels; Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Each is associated with one of the traditional elements. Orthodox Christians recognize 7 or even 8 archangels, each associated with a color in a chakra-like system of ascending spirituality. Michael and Gabriel are especially revered, and are shown in adoration on the iconostasis (icon screen) in every church.

God, or aspects of God, may also be personified as angels – see Creation.

In some icons, you will see angels of other orders, particularly the 6-winged seraphim.

Betsy Porter

Archangel Michael

Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped panel, 2007
photograph by Richard Anderson

Michael is the commander of the heavenly hosts and the great defender against evil, especially in time of war. He is often shown in armor, and sometimes on horseback or slaying a dragon. (His wings distinguish him from similar depictions of Saint George.) Michael frequently appears on war memorials.

In France and Britain, Michael is particularly associated with the fortress-like towers at the west end of churches and cathedrals, and with high, west- facing coastal outposts such as Mont Saint Michel in France.

Among the archangels, Michael is most directly concerned with the troubles of us earthlings. His element is earth, and he wears an “earthy” red outer garment.

Archangel Michael

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 1997

This was my very first icon, painted in 1997 in a 6-day intensive workshop under Vladislav and Olga Andrejev of the Prosopon School of Iconology.

Archangel Michael

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board,
9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2004

This full-length figure of Archangel Michael was based on a drawing from the Orthodox Church in Finland.

He is shown as though just coming in for a landing, with his large feet outstretched to touch Planet Earth.

The rugged and mountainous landscape is very typical for icon subjects set outdoors. The cave at Michael's feet represents the mysterious unknown, the depths into which we cannot see or penetrate.

Head of Archangel Gabriel

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2006

Gabriel is God’s messenger, making several appearances in the Bible.

Most memorably, he is the angel of the Annunciation – a startling moment frequently depicted in art and iconography. It is Gabriel who appears suddenly to tell the young Mary that she will have a very special baby.

For an icon of The Annunciation, go to the Icons of Mary page, with further remarks on the Step by Step and Landscape, Buildings, and Furniture pages.

Gabriel’s element is water, and his outer garment is "watery" blue.

Head of Archangel Gabriel

Cold encaustic on Claybord®, 9 x 12 inches, 2006

Here is the same icon drawing interpreted in a very different medium, cold encaustic, on a board almost twice the size of the one above. It was painted in a spring 2006 workshop taught by Rebecca Alex at the Mendocino Art Center.

Many early icons were painted in encaustic (hot colored wax) - a touchy and rather hazardous medium which produces glowing lifelike skin tones and appealing texture, but little detail.

In the cold encaustic technique, an acrylic under-painting is first applied, followed by wax medium colored with oil paint. The surface is then melted slightly with a heat gun or incandescent lamp. Unfortunately, the fumes disagreed with me - but I enjoyed trying this new way of painting.

Archangel Gabriel

Acrylic on Claybord®, 11 x 14 inches, 2002

On occasion I have been away from home without my egg tempera supplies, and have worked in other mediums. Each has its pros and cons. Some iconographers prefer acrylic - it dries quickly and requires no olifa or other coating - but I like egg tempera for its authentic "look" and because it is more suitable for fine detail.

Archangel Raphael

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2003
inscription from the Book of Tobit (paraphrased)

Raphael appears as a in the apocryphal Book of Tobit, as the friend and companion to the young man Tobias who must seek his fortune and a wife. Only at the end of the book does Raphael reveal his angelic identity.

Raphael is particularly concerned with the welfare of children and families. He is known as "the angel of happy meeting."

His element is fire, so his hair band may be shown with a center jewel of small flames. His spear is tipped with flame. His robe is a flaming red-orange, and his wings are usually shown red-violet.

Archangel Uriel

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2005
Inscription: "Winged Angels - the Bright Shadows Cast in Heaven by the Light of Lights"
(paraphrased) from "The Shadows" by George Macdonald
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Uriel is not mentioned in the Bible, and far less known than Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

Uriel is here depicted as recording archangel or the memory of God, holding the Book of Life which contains all the memories of the universe. His element is air. He wears a flame-orange robe over a green-gold tunic, and his wings are green.

Being little known, Uriel has become an object of speculation and imagination. A web search for Uriel will bring up much amazing and contradictory material.

Christ is Risen!
He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2010
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Early on the first Easter morning, a group of women who are among Jesus' devoted friends arrive at his tomb, carrying ointments for his body.

When they arrive, an angel greets them with the unexpected news of the Resurrection!

Angels often appear as details of other icons.

By tradition, there are many types of angelic beings and they take many forms, including the many-winged seraphim and cherubim who surround Christ in Glory, and the wheel shaped "thrones" at his feet.

Betsy Porter
Betsy Porter
Betsy Porter
Betsy Porter
Betsy Porter

In contemporary icon workshops, the first icon painted is usually an icon of an angel.

You will find several icons of angels on the Artist Friends page.

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