The Italian Almanac

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Angels

The beauty, grace and power of angels in Western art are explored in a new exhibition in the northern mountain village of Illegio. The show brings together nearly 80 works of art, including paintings by some of the greatest masters of past centuries, such as Sandro Botticelli, Peter Paul Rubens, Paolo Veronese and Giambattista Tiepolo. Starting with Medieval works, it moves through the Renaissance and into the 18th century, using paintings, sculptures, altarpiece and precious metal work to look at the development of iconography associated with angels.

The exhibition places a particular emphasis on the dual role of angels in Catholic representations, explained Vatican 'culture secretary' Gianfranco Ravasi. "Angels are necessary figures," he said. "This is because they act as a bridge of communication between our everyday world of heavy, material things, and the other side, the celestial world, which marks the infinite and the divine. We should seek to represent this image more often because it connects two dimensions we usually keep separate, the infinite and the everyday, time and eternity".

The exhibition is divided into four overarching themes: the development of iconography; how artists have represented hierarchies within angelic orders; the duties of angels, both as messengers and fighters; and the cult of archangels. Illegio has secured a number of important loans for the event, including some of the most famous angelic portraits in Western art.

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo's dark depiction of 'Tobias and the Angel' (1522-1524) contrasts with Filippo Lippi's 'Annunciation' (1450) with its brilliant light and bright colours. Orazio Gentileschi's 16th-century 'The Sacrifice of Isaac' shows the angel staying a startled Abraham. Extending the theme of human and celestial interaction into later centuries are the works of Tiepolo father and son, 'The Angel Rescuing Hagar' (1732) and 'The Three Angels appearing to Abraham' (1770).

The exhibition is taking place in the village of Illegio, which has staged a string of big shows at its Casa delle Esposizioni in recent years. It has won loans from Europe's top museums for the event, including the Vatican Museum, Florence's Uffizi Gallery, Rome's Borghese Gallery, Berlin's Gemaeldegalerie, and Madrid's Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.

'Angeli: Volti dell'Invisibile' (Angels: Invisible Faces) runs until October 3.